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Ex Libris Assssssa

I got this book at


Date Assssssssssa

Stayed at Mena House, room number Assssssa

from sssssss to sssssss My favourite dish Asssssssssa

My favourite drink Asssssssssa


The Mena House at night – a castle from an Oriental fairy tale. 4

Secrets of a very special Hotel The


Andreas Augustin Dedicated to Carola, Lisa and Florian.

A Select Member of

The Most Famous Hotels in the World 5

Andreas Augustin presents

The Mena House Treasury the ‘reader’s digest’ of our book MENA HOUSE in the series THE MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD® Photographs and sources: The Most Famous Hotels archives, American University Beirut, Claude Stemmelin, the private collections of Eloui Farid and Mahmoud Abdel Kader, the Rodakowski estate, Nina Nelson, Tom Shipley, Xandra Hurlingham, Mohamed Khattab, Francis Amin, L’Orientale; Lehnert&Landrock; The Egyptian Gazette Archives; Al-Ahram. Special thanks to Sanjiv Malhotra and Rajiv Kaul for making this project possible, Nabil Sobhy, Ann Moukhtar Kortam, Veneeta Rikhy, Kamal Zayton, Atef Goubran, Nagla Sakr, Noha Ihab and last but not least to Ashraf Gabry. Editorial control: Thomas Cane All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the copyright owner. A history project conducted by The Most Famous Hotels in the World™ Famous Hotels Main Archives ISBN: 978-3-900692-14-8 © Andreas Augustin 2005 (1)–2007 (2)

Design Ramazotti Michelangelo 6

Mashrabia is the name of the turned wood spool work that graces the Mena House. It stems from the windows of Harems, where it was important to be able to look in one direction without being seen (this photograph is by no means a suggestion as to which direction should be preferred). 7

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I made the Mena House my home many years ago. Here I find peace and inspiration to read and write. This little book represents a ‘reader’s digest’ of my ‘big’ book ‘Mena House’ in the series ‘The Most Famous Hotels in the World’. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together for you.

Author’s Notepad Mornings at the Mena House are tennis or golf; mornings are swimming; mornings are a cup of fresh peppermint tea at the lobby bar. A brisk walk up the ramp to the Great Pyramid is a wonderful morning exercise. Producing a book like the Mena House Treasury is a matter of years of research, comparable to an archaeological dig. In this case we were challenged to verify an age-old legend: the story that the Mena House was built on the spot where once stood an old Khedival hunting lodge. The project started right here in Gizah, where we combed the premises for clues to the past. We discovered an ancient door still functioning today, which can be traced back to the year 1885, when today’s hotel was built. We knew that we were closing in on the former hunting lodge, but we were still not quite there. We spent weeks in the archives of The Egyptian Gazette, unearthing dusty old newspaper articles about the early days of the hotel. We travelled to Paris to search the Archives Diplomatiques at the Quai d’Orsay. In London, the Imperial War Museum, usually a great source, came up with nothing. Vienna and Austria’s long-lasting relations with Egypt produced valuable archival material. But still the elusive hunting lodge described in countless books and articles remained a mystery. One day, the door to the past suddenly creaked open. In an attic in the North of Scotland, in the house of a great-granddaughter of the first manager of the hotel, our torch beams shone upon fading photographs hidden away for over one hundred years. For the first time, we came across an image of the ‘mud hut’. It showed a fine two-storey building, fitting exactly the description of the fabled hunting lodge after various extension. The building (right) stood to the North of the first Mena House, about one hundred metres from the famous mosque-shaped 8

Secrets of a very special Hotel

restaurant Al Rubayyat. It remained the private quarters of the hotel’s owners and its first manager, Ernst Rodakowski. During the extensions built between 1950 and 1978, the structure was demolished and replaced by one of the Garden Wings of the hotel. The hunting lodge accommodated guests of the Khedive ever since 1869, the year the Suez Canal opened. Mission accomplished; back to the Mena House. The Mena House always was a destination in its own right. Some used to spend the entire winter here. Most comfortably located, right outside of Cairo and it’s treasures, next to the Great Pyramid, with the fresh and clean air of the desert. At lunch Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Antiques Council of Egypt, confesses that it was at the Mena House that he was nursed back to life after a heart attack. Evenings are for cocktails. Evenings are for the best Indian food west of Mumbai at the Mena House’s Indian restaurant. Evenings are for barbecues at Oasis beside the pool. Later I sit on my little balcony and gaze at the Pyramid. I actually stare. Every day, every night, I stare at the Great Pyramid, waiting for something to happen. Every time, I think to discover new shades, new facets in this giant pile of stones. Every time I sit and wait for something to happen, and in the end I realise that eternity is like the proverbial water kettle: nothing happens while you watch.

Andreas Augustin

View of the Pyramid from room 810, ca. 22.00, and a hint of Indian cuisine. 9

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Detail of a staff shot from 1907. 10

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Ethel and her husband Hugh F Locke-King (left&right) opened the Mena House in 1886, naming it after the important first Egyptian King Mena.

Who, please, was Mena? In ancient times there was a king, the first of all to lead the list (tableau) of all ancient kings of Egypt: Mena, the ‘Constant’, lived around 4400 BC. Mena – also known as Aha or King Menes of Memphis – was the founding king of the firstDynasty, the first to unify Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom. Ancient Egypt’s most predominant form of civilisation began with his crowning, and did not end permanently until the beginning of the Roman era, which started with Augustus Caesar. Mena founded the city of Memphis, and chose as its location an island in the Nile, so that it would be easy to defend. During his time, Egypt expanded his sphere of influence as far as the First Cataract. The Mena House hotel at the end of Pyramid Road was built during the years 1884–1886 next to a former Khedival hunting lodge, by then a two storey house nicknamed the ‘mud hut’. It is an institution, almost as established as the Pyramids themselves. The biggest weddings of the wealthiest Egyptian families are traditionally held at the Mena House, sometimes attended by more than 1,000 guests. Fantastic barbecue parties are arranged in the desert, with stunning views of the Pyramids. The Mena House organises dream like Egyptian nights in the desert for up to 2,000 guests, with tents, camels, grilled lamb and fire-eaters. 11

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Climbing the Pyramid is a difficult task. Today, however, it is prohibited. 12

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200 years of Egyptology focused on pyramids, temples and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Not all the answers were given. Modern Egyptologists like Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Antiques Council (right), are starting to ask different questions.

The Secret of the Pyramids All things fear Time, but Time fears the Pyramids. Ibn Fadlallah Al-Umari The question of who built the Pyramids and how has long been debated by Egyptologists and historians. Standing at the base of the Pyramids at Giza, it is hard to believe that any of these enormous monuments could have been built in one pharaoh’s lifetime. Modern Egyptologists believe that about 20,000 people built the Great Pyramid. Today Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass are trying to solve the puzzle of where the 20,000 workers dwelled. Once they find their living area, they can learn more about their daily lives. Mark has been excavating the bakeries that presumably fed this army of workers, and Zahi has been excavating their cemetery. It is believed that Giza housed a skeleton crew of workers who were – from 2575–2150 BC – on ‘duty’ all year round. But during the late summer and early autumn months, during the annual flooding of the fields by the overflowing waters of the Nile, a great additional number of people would appear at Giza to put in time on the pyramids. These farmers and local villagers gathered at Giza to work for their god kings, to build their monuments to the hereafter. This would ensure their own afterlife and would also benefit the future and prosperity of Egypt as a whole. They may well have been willing workers, working for ample rations, for the benefit of man, king, and country.

The Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khufu): 140m high, 230m along the base, estimated 6 tons of each of the estimated 2,300,000 blocks. 13

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Secrets of a very special Hotel

The name ‘Sphinx’ (‘strangler’) was coined by the Greeks. In Egyptian it is called ‘hu’, emblem of ‘Hor-em-akhu’, ‘Horus in the horizon’. It sits on what was once a quarry. Over 4,500 years ago, Chephren’s workers shaped a giant sandstone into a lion and gave it their pharaoh’s face. Tutmose had an altar stone placed between its paws (right).

This Sphinx has No Riddle The Sphinx faces the rising sun (like the main entrance of the Mena House). The legendary riddle of the Sphinx stems from her Greek ‘sister’, the Sphinx of Thebes (‘What is that which is four-footed, three-footed and two-footed?’) Oedipus guessed correctly that it was man; for the child crawls on hands and feet, the adult walks upright, and the old man supports his walk with a stick – the third leg. Then the Sphinx, who used to carry the guessers away and devour them, threw herself down from her mountain. But that was in Greece. Our Egyptian Sphinx was always of a kinder nature. Thutmose, while still a prince, fell asleep in her shade. During a dream, the Sphinx told him to clear away the sand because it was choking her. If he did this, he would be rewarded with a kingship. Thutmose carried out this request and the Sphinx held up her end of the deal. The newly crowned king gratefully built an altar between her giant paws. The sand, however, returned and protected the figure until recently. Top left: This was the situation early travellers met when arriving at the Sphinx. In 1817 a certain Captain Caviglia started removing large parts of the sand covering its base. Removing the sand was a Sisyphean task. Today Thutmose’s altar stands between the paws of the Sphinx, clearly visible to everybody.


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The surroundings of the Pyramids still provide ample adventure for those who do not wander in the footsteps of guided groups and tourist flocks. 18

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From the Pyramids to the Alexandria of Alexander the Great, with its lighthouse and fabled library. Even the world of comics has adopted ancient Egypt as a subject. To the left: famous cartoon reporter Tintin on a secret mission in Egypt; right: now we know – it was Obelix who broke the Sphinx’s nose.

From Pyramids to Modern Egypt 2700–2500 BC: In Giza, Egypt, on the west bank of the Nile River near Cairo, ten pyramids were built (largest was for Pharaoh Khufu). uu Fast forward 2600 years: the zenith of Alexandria

332 BC: Alexander the Great took Egypt from the Persians, replaced Memphis with Alexandria as the new capital – soon the cultural and economic centre of the ancient world. Alexander built the fortified port of Alexandria, a 1.3 km causeway, the Heptastadion and the Great Lighthouse. His intellectual input went into the Library at Alexandria. It catalogued the entirety of early Greek science, art and literature (Greek culture was considered to be superior). The library held about 50,000 books. The eventual fate of the library is unknown. A significant portion of it is said to have been destroyed during Julius Caesar’s war against Pompey. The Library may have been devastated during the 270s, along with the palace quarter. Perhaps remains are hidden, still waiting to be discovered. uu Fast forward again:

31 BC: Defeat of the once-mighty Egyptian navy at Actium. Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire under Augustus Caesar (alias Octavian or Caesar the Younger, later Augustus). Peacekeeping military garrisons were stationed at Alexandria. 30 BC: Cleopatra VII died. She was reputably the most beautiful woman in ancient Egypt – and its most famous queen in history and drama, lover of Julius Caesar and later the wife of Mark Antony. Around 0 of our time legend has it that the parents-to-be of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, left Cairo for Jerusalem and eventually Bethlehem. 324: Roman Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople (Istanbul). Alexandria slipped from its number one position. 19

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How to Bluff Your Way Through Hieroglyphics A hieroglyph is a character used in a system of pictorial writing on ancient Egyptian monuments. Hieroglyph, meaning ‘sacred carving’, is a Greek translation of the Egyptian phrase ‘the god’s words.’ The script arose in ‘Mena’ the late pre-dynastic period (just before 2925 BC). The number of signs used remained constant at about 700 for more than 2,000 years. With the rise of Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD came the decline and ultimate demise of the ancient Egyptian religion and its hieroglyphs. The last known use of hieroglyphs is on an inscription dated AD 394. Hieroglyphic writing followed four basic principles. 1.The pictorial way: a man with his hand to his mouth might stand for the word ‘eat’, ‘sun’ would be a large circle with a smaller circle in its centre. 2. A hieroglyph might represent or imply another word suggested by the picture. The sign for ‘sun’ could just as easily serve as the sign for ‘day’ or as the name of the sun god Re. The sign for ‘eat’ could also represent the more conceptual word ‘silent’ by suggesting the covering of the mouth. 3. The signs also served as representatives of words that shared consonants in the same order. Thus, the Egyptian words for ‘man’ and ‘be bright,’ both spelled with the same consonants, hg, could be depicted by the same hieroglyph. Surprise, surprise! 4. The hieroglyphs stood for individual or combinations of consonants. You see, it’s not so difficult.


Secrets of a very special Hotel

Shepheard’s Hotel became one of the legends of the Orient. It was the place to be seen in Cairo during wintertime. From here, the parties started their excursions to the Great Pyramid or up-country to the Valley of the Kings, to Luxor and Thebes, to Aswan and to Abu Simbel. The hotel was burnt down by a mindless mob during the 1953 revolution against King Farouk and rebuilt on the banks of the Nile, lacking its old world charm.

642: Arab influence in the Persian Alexandria area. We are talking about the Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mameluke, Bahri, Burgi and finally about the Ottoman Turk eras until, in 1797: Napoleon conquered Egypt and occupied Cairo. 1798: Cairo’s first revolt against the French occupation. 1799: Napoleon left for Paris to become France’s first Consul. 1801: The British – in cooperation with the Turkish army – drove the French army out of Egypt. Egypt is left in the hands of the Turks. 1806: Mohammed Ali declared himself Pasha of Egypt 1815: Giovanni Belzoni became the first archaeologist of note. He made ancient Egypt popular, spreading Egypt-mania around the world. 1822: Mohammed Ali introduced cotton to Egypt. 1822–1832: Hieroglyphs deciphered by Jean-Françoise Champollion. 1841: Samuel Shepheard helped a Mr Hill to run the ‘British Hotel’ in Cairo, situated in Erzbekieh. 21

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Horsemanship was always an important skill at the Mena House. It supplied the basic means of transport to reach the hotel in the first place. Coaches travelled between the city of Cairo and the Mena House, including the Mena Ra, a regular transfer by a four-horse coach (above, its arrival at the hotel in 1890). At the Mena House the postcard below was available as a ‘souvenir’. The one below is the oldest postcard we have found, mailed to Bavaria in 1894. To the right, a glimpse of the corner of Mena Stables, reputably the best in the country.


Secrets of a very special Hotel

In 1894, Baron de Rodakowski bought shares in the hotel and rented it from Locke-King. Above, he poses proudly with his horse Coco. Below, Ethel Locke-King approaches her horse for her daily morning ride.


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Did this fantastic staircase inspire Doyle to have Sherlock Holmes come back? After Doyle returned to England from the Mena House, Holmes was briefly brought back in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, 1901, then revived in ‘The Empty House’, 1903, and subsequent tales. 46

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From the Mena House, Conan Doyle planned his trips to Jerusalem, all organised by Thomas Cook. Various letters were sent from here on Mena House stationary, auctioned at Christies for over £5,000 in 2004 (below).

1895–1896: After Arthur Conan Doyle successfully published his 25th Sherlock Holmes book (the first one was A Study in Scarlet, 1887) in 1894, he ‘killed’ Sherlock Holmes by reporting his apparent death in The Final Problem, the last story of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. He wanted to devote time and attention to his ‘more serious’ writings. Moreover, his wife Louise (Touie) was diagnosed with tuberculosis (then called consumption). After testing the clean air of Swiss mountain regions, they arrived in Cairo for the winter. They spent the winter of 1895-96 at the Mena House Hotel.

In December 1895, the Mena House advertised its Hungarian Band. 47

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‘From the reading room one can quietly watch the visitors ascend this huge artificial mountain and return again to the base.’ wrote Joseph Pollard in1898 (The Land of the Monuments). Among the papers of the reading room was The Egpytian Gazette, which published this snippet to the left in 1900. 48

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1896: Artistic licence: the label above manages the impossible: to see the front of the hotel and the Great Pyramid in the background at the same time. Only photographer Claude Stemmelin could pull off the task by using a cloche.

1896: Emil Weckel and a certain Mr Schick bought the Mena House. The hotel had lawn tennis, two croquet lawns, shooting, stables with Arab and English horses and desert carts for hire. Fresh milk came daily from their own dairy with medically-examined cows. 1898: Cairo received electricity (gas since 1870). Ernst Rodakowski sold his shares in the Mena House for £45,000. The Savoy Hotel Cairo opened. 1899: Shepheard’s managers considered leaving their hotel open for the summer as well. W H Bartlett stayed there in 1898 and recalled the society that visited Cairo at this time: ‘Inside Shepheard’s Hotel you will find just the Bel Alp in winter quarters. All the people who live in their boxes and grand hotels, who know all lands and no languages, who have been everywhere and done nothing, looked at everything and seen nothing, read everything and know nothing—who spoiled the globe by trotting on it.’ 49

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Since 1899, hole 18 of the Mena House has been located next to the Great Pyramid, undoubtedly one of the most famous locations in the world. 50

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December 1899: The 18-hole golf course opened at Mena House. Due to regular irrigation in the early hours of the day, an oasis has been created at the edge of the desert. Here you find a cool and pleasant morning atmosphere even during the hottest of all Augusts, the warmest month of the year. Below: Being in charge of the sports and leisure activities, Raouf Gamal occasionally has time to tee off.


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The first of these little towers was added in 1900, housing the engine room of the hotel’s first lift. The palm tree to the right is, by the way, the oldest existing tree on the premises. It bursts out of its surrounding building from a small courtyard, protected by a ‘green-minded’ management. 52

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Egypt was in the midst of a real boom. Lord Cromer, the British Agent in Egypt (1883–1907, left), catapulted the country into the future. George Nungovich (right) built a hotel empire.

The 20th Century 1883–1907: Lord Cromer, the British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt surrounded himself with the best brains and catapulted Egypt into the future. The new Aswan Dam generated vast areas of previously uncultivatable land. Led by the eminent Sir Ernest Cassel, the bankers arranged all major deals in the country and gave the fellahen start-up loans to grow cotton on the new land. Egyptian cotton soon earned a reputation as the best in the world. 1900: Four tramways were traversing Cairo and a fifth was being built to run from Giza to the pyramids. Trains ran from Helouan and Tura. English department stores and shopping districts were set up. At Aswan in Upper Egypt the Cataract Hotel was opened (18 January). In India, Mohan Singh Oberoi, the future hotellier, was born. Cairo’s hotels were firmly in the hands of European managers: the Mena House – Emil Weckel; Gezira Palace – Luigi Steinschneider; Savoy – August Wild; Hotel du Nil – R Fleischmann; Tewik Palace (Helouan) – Albert Friedlander; Hotel Abbas – F Kuch.

The tram station in front of the Mena House (this picture was taken in 1938). 53

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The Turgoman: Confidant, guide, translator, the Turgoman (bastardised in colloquial English as Dragoman) is and always was the missing link between the secrets of Egypt and the rest of the world. Turgomans are still around; today they appear as ‘tour guides’ or ‘personal drivers’.

The Mena House gardener – always one of the most important positions held in the hotel – watering the plants in 1906 and today. 54

Secrets of a very special Hotel

1900: At the Mena House, a lift had been built in the main building and for the first time electric light illuminated each floor, and all public rooms. The 1900 spring season at the Mena House offered a croquet lawn, lawn tennis, shooting, gymkhanas and the swimming bath. A daily coach service was in operation. The whole city was buzzing with word of the new tram scheduled for autumn completion In November, the new electric tram was proudly mentioned in every advert. Of course, this new means of convenience was great for business. Leaving the Pont des Anglais downtown every 40 minutes, it increased the traffic to the Pyramids, from seven in the morning until nine in the evening, when the last train chugged back. There was one first-class carriage, built in America with a sitting-room for 24 passengers, 36 passengers were travelling third class. With the new golf course in place, the hotel now held its famous gymkhanas on the fairway of the 9th and 18th holes. The grand stand was at the foot of the Great Pyramid. The idea was to leave Cairo with the 12.20 train for lunch at the Mena House, and take the 5.40 to return to the city . 1904: Schick and Weckel sold the Mena House to the George Nungovich company. Nungovich had started as a porter in Cairo station and built a hotel empire in Egypt, quoted on the stock exchange (combining the Angleterre, Savoy, Grand Continental and Mena House hotels). August Wild became the managing director of the group. Gymkhana: 1. chiefly Brit.: an event in which horses and riders display skill and aptitude in various races and contests; 2. (esp. in Anglo-India) a place providing sporting and athletic facilities (from Hindi gend-kh達n達), literally: ball house, from kh達na house; influenced by Gymnasium. 55

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Christmas at the Mena House in 1909. 56

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Camel polo was among the games played at the gymkhana. These functions attracted hundreds of visitors, who travelled to the Mena House golf course by tram.

1907: Swiss hotelier Bucher-Durrer opened the Semiramis Hotel. The same year Cromer left Cairo. His successor was Sir John Eldon Gorst. 1909: Empress Eugénie, the widow of Napoleon III, arrived for a second visit to the Pyramids. 1909: The Prince and Princess of Wales visited the Pyramids. The later King George V and Queen Mary were on their way home from their tour of India. The group’s August Wild general manager August Wild arranged for a banquet near the Pyramids. The best location was clearly the chalet that had been built for Empress Eugénie in 1869. The Mena House staff moved out in force to clean up decades of dust. The dinner served was a great success. 1911: Lord Kitchener, who had won back the Sudan for Egypt in 1898, became resident minister. He set up a legislative assembly in Cairo. This hailed the beginning of the parliamentary life of Egypt, which was an imitation of Great Britain. The British resident minister was similar to the prime minister in London, except that he lived in constant fear of the Egyptian people one day discovering that there might be another (independent) way to rule itself. The political events of World War I would soon supply the necessary insight. 57

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A beautifully presented selection of dried flowers welcomes you on your way to the Moghul Room, the fine Indian restaurant. 78

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Mixed Grill Early start: A cautious guest made sure that he got his start into the next millennium with the best seat available and booked as early as 1989 the Montgomery Suite and his dinner table at the Mena House for New Year 2000. He paid US$ 600 as a deposit, and 11 years later turned up right in time for the New Year party. Cc Sanatory Mena: Dr Zahi Hawass, today Secretary General of the Supreme Antiques Council of Egypt with some 27,000 employees working under him, was ‘Director of the Pyramids’. In 1993 he suffered a heart attack. While at the hospital, the kitchen of the Mena House sent him a special diet. Once he was out again, he came to the hotel to recover. ‘The Mena House saved my life,’ he relates today, smilingly admitting that, in return, his Pyramids may well have secured the existence of Mena House. Cc Green! An organiser of an environmentally concerned conference asked for a helicopter landing place. A 100-year old tree in the parking area stood in the way and the Mena House management chopped the dear old fellow down. The bitter irony: the conference was held at another venue, and all that is left today is a lonely trunk on the lower parking deck, and a fading circle of a white painted H on the upper parking deck. Cc Relief: William Cohen (left), US Secretary of Defense, was relieved when F&B manager Mahmoud Abdel Kader approached him and explained some of the kitchen’s specialities. Cc Marry Me: A young Canadian man heard of the Mena House Oberoi and its reputation as a dream-like wedding venue. He arranged everything via e-mail. On the scheduled date the bride and groom and ten hand picked guests arrived from Toronto. The marriage took place in the garden facing the Pyramids, the couple spent one night at the hotel and the next day they left again for Canada (the photograph shows another couple, enjoying the same service). Cc 79

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This dramatically lit ceiling belongs to the corridor behind the first and oldest section of the Mena House. It was built in 1886 by Locke-King to connect the new entrance facing the Great Pyramid to the new restaurant Al Rubayyat, named after a play by Omar Khayyam and translated by Edward Fitzgerald. 80

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HRH Sofia, Queen of Spain (right, with Mahmoud Abdel Kader, later F&B manager of the Mena House) visited the Mena House.

In 1918, during her historic flight from England to South Africa, Vimy Vickers landed at the Mena House. The Prince of Wales, Duke of Windsor, swam in the Mena House pool in 1928, after he had teed-off from the summit of the pyramid. Golfer Nick Faldo shook his head once he heard the story. Dr Ahmed Zoweil, Egypt’s Nobel Prize winner for Chemistry enjoyed the hotel’s hospitality. Barbara Bush and her granddaughter, too. Julio Iglesias and Gloria Gaynor sang at the Mena House and in 1979 Frank Sinatra, while residing at the Mena House, gave two SOS charity concerts in the desert, sponsored by Mrs Gihan Sadat. At the Mena House pool, Pierre Balmain and Bulgari held the most sparkling fashion show the country has ever seen. Dalida, and the bands Earth Wind & Fire, Village People and Grateful Dead enjoyed the Mena House, too. Cc Gaynor


The Shah of Persia, Reza Pahlavi, stayed at the Mena House during his most difficult time in life. In 1979 the religious opposition, lead by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had driven him into exile. The Shah, who had married Princess Fawzia, a daughter of Egypt’s former King Fouad, returned to Egypt where President Sadat greeted them with utmost warmth, friendship and fraternity. In Cairo, they were able to see their children who had been studying in the United States and from whom they had been separated. For only four days the Shah staid at the Mena House, where he met with President Sadat. The Shah, who suffered from cancer, checked out of the hotel into the privacy of Kubbeh Palace only a few weeks before he died in July 1980. 81

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Mena House Gardens were always the perfect setting for a souvenir snapshot. Left: Phoenix Canariensis (palm from the Canary Islands). Below Pritchardia pacifica (Fiji fan-palm), bottom: Bouganvilea Hibiscus.


Secrets of a very special Hotel

Inspiration: Charlie Chaplin (left) spent a whole week at the Mena House, finding the place so inspiring that he continuously worked on a script for a new film there. At the end of his stay, he gave a cocktail party on the terrace. Cc Harry Mulisch (right), the best-selling author of The Procedure, has his main character Victor Werker spending a lot of time at the Mena House, were he sees Jacqueline Onassis and a group of friends (‘I have seen the owners of the world’). Cc

This early view of the Mena House (dating from ca 1890) by postcard artist Klamroth shows the fabled hunting lodge of the Khedive Ismail Pasha. This ‘alpine style’ lodge – to the very right of the painting – was the first building on these grounds and the private residence of the first owners of the Mena House.

Cc Chef Rais Ahmed (left) was 23 years old when, as a chef de partie with Oberoi in New Delhi, he was asked to go to Cairo to organise the kitchen at the Mena House. He spoiled the Egyptian pallets with his miracles of mild and hot curries, his tandoories and tikkas. In 1979, he opened the fantastic Indian restaurant Moghul Room at the Mena House, a success even exported to other Oberoi hotels around the world. US President Richard Nixon thanks the chef for a superb meal. 83

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Shaking: Aziz Fouad.

On location: Large parts of Valley of the Kings (above) with Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker were shot at the Mena House. Roger Moore, who stayed here during the shooting of The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, confessed to the guest-book during a second stay: ‘How nice to be here as a guest & not have to jump around as 007!’ Bar keeper Aziz Fouad was in charge of the Martinis. Charlton Heston (left, with riding coach Mohammed Allan Gabri) appreciated upon his return that the lobby hadn’t changed ‘from when I rode a horse into the garden every afternoon after shooting the Ten Commandments. The Arabian classic Hekayat hub (Love Story) is also set at the Mena House (with Myriam Fakhr Eddine), so is Sahib el galala (His Majesty) with Samira Ahmed. The Movie ‘Flatfoot in Egypt’ (Bud Spencer and Terence Hill) was filmed at the Mamlouk Bar and Khan El Khalili. Cc

Sir Peter Ustinov, actor and author, enjoyed the story of King Zog and Queen Geraldine of Albania, who had spent seven months at Mena House in 1946. King Zog’s private secretary had a huge safe for the court’s treasures brought especially from Cairo, so large that it had to be pulled up to their apartment on the outer walls of the building Cc Belly Dance star Fifi (left) is welcomed by beautiful Nabila Ebeid. Once Fifi Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid el Maktoum, a great asked for a headache pill horseman and one of the leading figures of the Arab and everybody got worried world, has made a tradition of his horse race in the desert ... but it was for her dog around the Pyramids. The Mena House is in charge of Caesar.

‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ was partially shot at the Mena House 84

Secrets of a very special Hotel

setting up the spectacle: from tents to food, everything is in the experienced hands of the hotel. In 1923, Peggy Guggenheim (right) asked the management to prepare an excursion into the desert. A caravan of camels was chartered, Sheik Mohammed servants, a chef, tents, furniture such as camp-beds, and washing dishes were loaded and off they went for a delightful trip into the desert behind the Pyramids. For a short while she even left her children, Sindbad and Lilly, at the hotel to travel to Jerusalem. His Imperial Highness, the Crown Prince of Japan and his wife were welcomed by Rajiv Kaul. Karim Aga Khan arrived – as many times before his late father, who frequented the hotel with his wife Begum. Maurice Bejart, the ballet director, enjoyed his stay. Broadcaster & author Bonnie Churchill was walking in the footsteps of her granduncle.

From the top to the bottom, left to right: Ebeid Atef, former President of Egypt; Nour El-Sherif & Pussy & Noura; Rushdi Abazat, Jean-Michel Jarre; Nick Faldo; HRH Prince Philip; Jane Fonda; Bonnie Churchill; Claudia Schiffer; Roger Moore; Arantxa Sanchez, HRH Juan Carlos of Spain, Karim Aga Khan and the late Prince Takamado of Japan and his wife Hisako. 85

The Mena House Treasury

Jane Fonda visited the Montgomery Suite and enjoyed her lunch at the Mena House. So did French superstar Jean-Paul Belmondo and fashion-tsar Gucci. The famous Egyptian singer Um Kalthoum patronised the hotel as well as Allan Moorhead, the author of ‘African Trilogy’. Cc Omar Sharif (left) is of course the pride of Egypt. The charming and elegant Hollywood The best stories are told movie star who once said ‘I’d at the bar. rather play bridge than make a bad movie’ is a regular at the Mena House, and the darling of the staff. Singer Hani Shaker actually performed at the Mena House for a while before becoming one of the most respected stars of Egypt. Everybody remembers beautiful Brooke Shields, who paid her tribute to the hotel, too. Mena House has welcomed more than once Egyptian Adel Imam, (right) the celebrated comedian, screen and stage personality. Renown for his anti-terror point of view and thus a target of terrorism himself, he usually arrives well protected by governmental security guards. Have you heard of Dr Zaki Souidan? He was a doctor of international repute. His first practice was near the hotel. Often he was asked to look after guests, and of course, sometimes after the staff. During the 1943 Churchill, Roosevelt and Chiang Kai Shek conference at Mena House, the chef de cuisine was not feeling very well and had to visit Souidan several times. One night the chef came to pay his bill: he arrived with a large jar of caviar which he presented to the doctor. Zaki looked at it surprised and asked where it came from. ‘Well’, said the chef, ‘Stalin sent three jars to Mena House for Mr Churchill, and I thought two were enough for him.’ Mixed Grill: Observing the happenings at the Oasis Barbecue Restaurant with the light effects at the Left: Bill Clinton on the terrace of the Mena House. 86

Secrets of a very special Hotel

Candlelight dinner at the pool.

Pyramids in the background, an impressed visitor uttered one evening: ‘There is an American couple swinging to an Austrian waltz played by an Egyptian violinist under the sparkling sky of Northern Egypt with the Star of the South over the horizon, dining Lebanese Mezzah on Royal China from Thailand served by a Nubian waiter. I call that Mixed Grill at Cairo.’ Csssc Recently seen at the Mena House were the Indian ministers Renuka Choudhury and her colleague Murali Deora, Robert Edward Diamond (Chief Executive Barclays Bank), Sir Richard Brooke (Chairman Boodles Club, London), Prince Khaled Ben Bander Ben Sultan (Royal Family Saudi Arabia), Prince Khalifa Ben Mohamed Al Nahian (Member Ruling family Abu Dhabi), Prince Said Ibn Maktoum Ibn Rashed, (Royal Family Emirates), the actors Jaqueline Bisset and Danny Glover, the German Chancelor Angela Merkel and to crown the list, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon of Thailand Csssc 87

The Mena House Treasury

Did You Know That F during the 1880s it was customary to charge for extras like a hot or cold bath in the bathroom ( each 5 piastres) or a lamp in the bedroom (each 5p)? F in 1919, the Mena House staff furnished 30 new rooms with newly arrived furniture (23 December) for all the arriving guests (24 December) within 24 hours? F during the 1920s, manager Oscar Geyer reared 20 hens and one cockerill in the garden behind the hotel to ensure a supply of fresh eggs? F a gardener during the 1920s was paid 10 piastres for each eucalyptus tree (very delicate - needs an endless supply of water), but was fined 20 if one died? A small forest behind the hotel is the result. F while digging a bunker for the golf course in 1922, a little urn with some ten statuettes was found? It was ‘only’ about 2,000 years old. F King Farouk always spoke Italian with the head waiter Bennini, when ordering a plate of his favourite spaghetti in thick tomato sauce? F an Australian officer during World War 1 was caught chasing a woman through the corridors of the Mena House? He was totally naked. Questioned what he had to say in his defence, he quoted an army regulation to the effect that an officer may wear any costume appropriate to the sport in which he is engaged at the moment. F the hotel’s most notable inhabitant of a very small room is the oldest palm tree on the premises? The tree received its own little room on the ground floor, where its 100 years old roots are steeped in historic sand. 88

F Hollywood star Mena Adrienne Suvari (right: ‘American Beauty’) was named after her British Aunt, who was christened after the Mena House? F the Kataab family has run the antique shop at the hotel since the hotel opened? Grandfather Ibrahim was a well known Egyptologist himself, and the generations to follow inherited his love for antiques? F King Gustav of Sweden was a true archaeologist and while at the Mena House viewed the Kataab collection? (Below, the King’s departure)

F before the modern pool was installed, the old marble swimming bath was emptied by hand, cleaned and refilled every night? F one night the pool was used for a fishing competition, live carp from the Nile were brought in and the first guest to catch one was the winner? That night saw many men in wet dinner jackets . . . F the old Mena House lifts were nicknamed the ‘please and thank you contraptions’, because they only seemed to oblige if such courtesies were extended to them? The antiquated lifts especially disliked VIPS - many a celebrity got trapped in them, including the OPEC leader Sheikh Yamani. Thankfully, Oberoi replaced them back in the 1970s.

Mena House Cairo preview  

The Mena House hotel in Cairo is one of the MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD.

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