Sleeping inside a work of art at Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel

The Walled Off Hotel, in the heart of Bethlehem, is just as much a work of art as it is a hotel, created by the world-famous street artist Banksy.

LCD Award 2017

We’ve collaborated with the Leading Culture Destinations Awards this year, partnering with them to host the Avis Travellers’ Awards which present the ‘Best Emerging Culture City of the Year’ and the ‘Best Art Hotel of the Year.’

A century after the Balfour declaration, the elusive Banksy opened a boutique hotel in the heart of occupied Bethlehem. Its name, The Walled Off Hotel, highlights the separation wall that towers over its main door and is a satirical spin on The Waldorf.

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The hotel is fully functioning but serves an entirely different purpose simultaneously. Its aim is twofold – to attract both tourists and media attention on the conditions of daily life in Palestine with the hope of starting a conversation. Banksy has packed the hotel with his iconic, satirical artworks. A truly jaw-dropping collection adorns the venue, earning it an LCD nomination for the Best Art Hotel of the Year.

Image credit: Giulia Blocal

I visited the hotel just after it opened, eager to see first-hand what had already become the most controversial installation of the year. At that time it wasn’t possible to enter the rooms, but I sat at the Piano Bar – which is open to residents and non-residents alike – and enjoy a ‘mocktail’ which tasted so good you would never notice it was alcohol free.

Artistic inspiration

Inspired by the Colonial style, the Piano bar recalls a sophisticated English tea room, at first glance. Chesterfield sofas, panelled ceilings, suffused lighting, floral wallpaper, and precious china make up this decadently styled space. But, after my gaze had wandered around a bit, I could spot all the witty, twisted, Banksy-designed details.

The piano was playing classical music, yet nobody was sitting at it. Three cupids were flying over it, and the scene would have looked idyllic but for the fact they were wearing oxygen masks.

The Piano Bar. Image credit: Giulia Blocal

CCTV cameras, representing the sophisticated Israeli security system, were hung on the wall directly above a single row of harmless slingshots, symbolic of the Palestinian resistance.

The bust of a rebel is surrounded by a cloud of tear gas, mocking the representation of heroes in classical art and recalling one of Banksy’s earlier sculptures: the ‘Bullet Proof David’. Through the backdrop of a tranquil, oil-painted landscape, a woman is seen rescuing her children from a bulldozer destroying their village.

I sat astounded, next to a cat frozen in a moment catching a caged dove, and my eyes couldn’t stop flitting between the vandalized oil paintings hanging on the walls. Eventually, I decided that my favourite was the one with children swing-riding around an army watchtower. A close second for me is the reinterpretation of an old Banksy classic: the rebel throwing a bunch of flowers. The original was painted close by but here, the flowers are real and placed in a vase.

Image credit: Giulia Blocal

Arthouse and hotel in equal measure

The Walled Off Hotel hosts eight fully equipped bedrooms which have been customised by Sami Musa, Dominique Petrine and – of course – Banksy himself. Alongside this boutique suite of rooms is a gallery showcasing artwork by Palestinian artists. There is also a fascinating museum which explains the turbulent history of the separation wall. With Banksy having not put anything on sale since 2013, the soon-to-be-opened gift shop is a feature much craved by art lovers from around the world.

Image credit: Giulia Blocal

Art inside and out

Banksy’s punchy irony isn’t contained within the hotel. The separation wall, right in front of it, has proved to be a constant source of inspiration for the artist-turned-hotel-owner.

Within 500 metres of the hotel lies the ‘Wall Mart’ shop. Here, wanna-be-street-artists can attend a stencil workshop, buy spray cans, rent a ladder and decorate the wall. Sports fans can watch La Liga and Premier League football matches that are projected onto the separation wall.

For those who prefer package holidays, the Walled Off Hotel will soon offer the ‘Vandals Retreat’ programme. Through this venture, you will be able to paint a wall and have dinner with a famous graffiti artist on your trip – starting with the Australian, Lush Sux.

While the hotel offers so much in the way of art and unique hospitality, so does the surrounding area of Bethlehem. Independently run street art tours are now commonplace – proving, for the time being at least, that Banksy’s efforts are beginning to reap benefits for the local economy.

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