Photo courtesy: Semiramis InterContinental hotel Photo courtesy: Semiramis InterContinental hotel

The Queen of the Nile

Fri, Apr. 21, 2017
CAIRO - 21 April 2017: Built in the early 20th century during a time when the ruling Khedival family was investing in developing and beautifying the cities of Egypt, the Old Semiramis was commissioned as a crown jewel.

The hotel’s large rooms and luxurious interior were originally intended for royal and prominent visitors invited to Egypt by the Khedive.

Photo courtesy: Semiramis InterContinental hotel

To build a hotel worthy of these guests, the Khedive brought in Swiss hotelier Bucher-Durrer, who already owned several hotels in Europe, to help him realize his vision of a palace hotel that rivalled those in Paris, London and Vienna—the cultural capitals of the world at the time.

Bucher-Durrer purchased 6000 square meters of land close to both downtown Cairo and the Nile and began building. In 1907 the prestigious hotel was finished, and ready to welcome the world’s elite.

In the hotel’s early years it hosted several famous guests. Among them were archeologist Howard Carter who uncovered Tutankhamun’s grave, Winston Churchill, who would become Britain’s Prime Minister, and Saad Zaghloul, who would later lead the uprising in 1919 and become Prime Minister of Egypt.

They all attended balls at night, every grand hotel in Cairo throwing a ball at least once a week. The Semiramis party was held every Saturday.

Photo courtesy: Semiramis InterContinental hotel

Also attending the nightly balls were English mothers and their daughters, who became known as the Fishing Fleets. At the beginning of winter in Europe, the British would set sail for Egypt, where the weather was much more pleasant than gray and cold Great Britain.

But the weather was not the only thing the mothers and daughters came to enjoy. The mothers were looking for eligible husbands for their daughters, and they would fish for them among the many officers who were stationed in Cairo by the British garrison. The officers were usually selected from among the British aristocracy, and the noble titles made them perfect sons-in-law in the eyes of the English mothers.

The ballroom where the British mothers and daughters attended the parties, and the hallways where Carter, Churchill, and Zaghloul discussed world affairs no longer exist. The Old Semiramis was replaced with a new and more modern version many years ago.

However, the location is still the same, as is the hotel’s reputation as one of Cairo’s best.
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