Marriott Hotel in Zamalek - Courtesy of Historichotels.com.eg
CAIRO - 22 April 2017:
One of the most iconic hotels in Cairo is the Marriott hotel in Zamalek, a palatial building that stands on the grounds of the original sixteenth-century structure. Wael Abed, author of Zamalek—My Home Island, tells the story of how the Gezira Palace was built by Ismail Pasha, who ruled Egypt from 1863-79.
A passionate builder, Ismail improved the city of Alexandria and greatly expanded Cairo, building a whole new quarter modelled after France’s capital, Paris, on the city’s western edge. Ismail began building the Gezira Palace, which is located just south of today’s 26th July Street, in 1863.
The project’s architect Julius Franz promised that the palace would be “the most beautiful building of modern Arabic style,” according to Abed. Six years later the palace and its interior were finished and ready to host Eugenie of France, wife to Emperor Napoleon III, who would travel to Egypt in November of 1869 to attend the opening of the newly built Suez Canal.
After Ismail used the palace as a summer retreat, he gifted the building and its gardens to his son, Prince Hassan. The prince lived there until it was sold in 1890, and turned into a hotel. The new owner was Paolino Draneht Pasha and his partner Oblieght, and the building was renamed Gezira Palace Hotel.
The relaunch of the hotel took place in the winter season of 1893-94, and Drahnet spoke of the hotel as the “world’s most comfortable and luxurious hotel,” writes Abed. The hotel was advertised all over the world and pictures of the garden featured on postcards.
But when World War I began, the luxury hotel was repurposed and used as a hospital. During this time the Australian General War Hospital tents were erected in the garden to house more patients, while the nurses lived in nearby apartments. Years later, when the world was at war once again, the Allies also turned the hotel and its grounds into a hospital.
In 1961 the property was nationalized, and the building was turned into a public-sector-run hotel and named the Omar El Khayam Hotel. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the lease of the hotel went to the Marriott International, which turned the buildings into the splendid palace hotel it is today.
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