As a new arrival in Cairo in 1988, Andrew Humphreys found the city’s hotels an appealing mix of the practical and the peculiar. An appreciation of contemporary hotel life led to a fascination with the hotel life of the past, and to the book Grand Hotels of Egypt and its follow-up On the Nile. Andrew, a journalist, editor and publisher, now lives in London but remains a frequent visitor to Egypt and an avid frequenter of its grand (and not so grand) hotels.
Andrew’s previous books include National Geographic Egypt, as well as guidebooks to Egypt and Cairo for Lonely Planet and Dorling Kindersley. In 1996 he co-founded and was editor-in-chief of the Cairo Times, which, while it lasted, was Egypt’s finest English-language newspaper. His journalism has also appeared in The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Financial Times, Time Out, Canvas, Condé Nast Traveller (UK) and National Geographic Traveler (US). He is the founder of Paradise Road, a publishing house specialising in non-fiction books about London.
This blog is a repository for unused research for Grand Hotels of Egypt and On the Nile, and off-cuts and oddments related to travel in Egypt from around the mid-19th to mid-20th century. That’s the idea, anyway – things may well change as we go along. I welcome correspondence and would love to hear from anyone with knowledge or memories of the places and times I write about; you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Dear Andrew Humphreys,
Thanks for your kind words about my Lee Miller (you might enjoy my most recent book, No Regrets, The Life of Edith Piaf, though I’m not sure where
Piaf stayed when in Cairo).
I’m working on a piece about the Baroness Empain aka Goldie. If you run across anything of interest concerning her, her husband, and their grand dwelling, Heliopolis, I’d greatly appreciate your letting me know. Are you in Cairo?
All the best,
Wonderful to hear from you. Drop me a line at email@example.com and let’s see if I can help you in any way.
Dear Mr. Humphreys-
I’m doing an exhibit on a businessman who stayed in the Eden Palace Hotel in Cairo and was wondering if you had any or knew of anyone who had memorabilia from the hotel. I’ve only been able to find postcards.
I’m going to put up a post on the Eden Palace in the next few days. I don’t have too much on the place, just some letters with beautiful illustrated letter heads, a few postcards and a luggage label. The problem is the hotel was only open to paying guests for around 20 years. I’ll put up everything I have shortly.
Admiring the time and energy you put into your site and detailed information you provide.
It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed material.
Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my
My weblog :: local seo services [Anton]
Mabrouk ya Andrew for the website
My name is Marta Taddei von Culin, I am writing you because my grand mother Carla Battigelli, born in Cairo, was the Daughter of Francesco Battigelli and Victorine Friedmann. Victorine , I think, was the sister of Signor E. Friedmann, from the Hotel du Nil.
If you can confirm me this, I would like to know if you have some more informations about this family, I am retracing the genealogy of my family and any tidbits would greatly help me.
Dear Andrew Humphreys
Having visited Cairo’s Ezbekiyya Square on a trip several years ago,
I find the theme of your book very appealing. I wonder if you are aware of a passage in chapter 10 of Michael Asher’s book, “Lawrence The Uncrowned King of Arabia”, where he describes a visit through the lobby of the Grand Continental Hotel and later, through what was, in better days, either the ballroom or the dining room of the hotel. It’s a fascinating description, although Asher’s visit was some time ago, ’97 or ’98 I believe.
Thank you very much for the lead – I will certainly pick up the Asher book and have a read.
Currently researching biographical information on 19th and early 20th century travel writers for books in the collection of an open access library that are being digitised. Have been brought to your site looking for information on R. Talbot Kelly.
As you write that you’re gathering unused research on Grand Hotels, you may like to read, “A fortnight in Egypt at the opening of the Suez Canal” by Sir Frederick Arrow. He attended the lavish opening of the Suez Canal and special ceremonies, Nov., 1869 and details his accommodations in Egypt. One of the events, Sir Frederick attended was the presentation of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at Cairo’s glittering Opera House, a substitute for “Aida” which the composer had agreed to write for the opening but failed to complete on time. The Khedive was disappointed, but not nearly as much as Sir Frederick to learn that there were two classes of invitations for the opening: one for Royalty and one for the likes of Sir Frederick. He became an informal chronicler of these events and in this work relates his reactions to one of the great events of the 19th century.
Have many others to recommend that may contain anecdotes about the Grand Hotels.
Please do send some links, I’d love to read more.
Dear Andrew Humphreys,
I am looking for the name of a hotel in Alexandria, starting with ‘Clar’ which existed during the 1930s. The painter Paul Klee mentions it in his travel diary on the 9th of January, 1929. After a quick search I only stumbled upon Hotel Claridge´s. I am hoping that you, being an expert, could and are willing to help me further.
Hi Andrew- I’ve stumbled across your website while researching some family photos of Helwan in the 1930’s. Our family owned the Villa Wanda, but there are extensive photos of another building that I’m trying to identify. Please reach out if you’ld like a crack at it!
Send them over and if I can;t help with the identification I can always post the pics on the site here and I’m sure someone else will be able to tell you what the building is.
I’ve just read your comment, and I am also researching my family archive in Hewlan in the 30’s to make a film about it. My great grand father was the head of the sanatorium Al Hayat, previously Grand Hotel Al Hayat, behind the Japanese garden. Would love to get in touch with you!
All the best,
Dear Mr. Humphreys,
Through my contact with Nigel Flechter-Jones I was informed about your new book ‘on the Nile in the golden age of travel’. I am really looking forward to it. I don’t know when it will be available in the Netherlands. Btw, I really really like the cover. It’s astonishing !!
Last Friday I happened to meet mr. Ayman Simman in Cairo who had the book “On the Nile” In the golden age of travel, on him. I was allowed to read it in the plane to Holland and I was flabbergasted.
I am looking forward too to be able to buy it in Holland. I could not find it yet on the website Amazone.com.
Can anybody let me know when it is available in The Netherlands?
Dear Mr. Humphreys,
What a fascinating and lovely website and books. Thank you for the work you’ve done here. I am coming to this site on an odd quest, I am interested in the life (and cultural context) of Hamad Hassah/Hassab survivor of the RMS Titanic, and enjoyed seeing his actual business card on your site. What secondary and primary sources would you recommend for studying the context of the dragoman in Egypt and do you think there would be any possibility of tracing the actual biography of Hamad Hassab? If not I’d like to reconstruct the milieu of such a person if possible.
Many thanks for any suggestions you can give.
Thank you for your kind comments. I’ll reply to you directly.
Good evening, Mr. Humphreys.
My name is Kevin Morrow, and I am writing a book about espionage operations in the Middle East during World War I. A German spy stayed at the Hotel Majestic in early 1915, and I saw what you wrote about that hotel on one of your pages here. Did you find secondary source info on the Majestic that I could refer to to write a description of the place?
I’m afraid that is as much information as I have on teh Majestic. You might try contacting one of the people that left comments beneath my post, maybe they have more descriptions.
Dear Andrew ,
A great book with great efforts behind it. You also keep updating. Thank you very much
You’re very welcome.
Dear Mr.Humphreys…I simply love you site..I myself have a love story with Cairo which started in 1999…..my mother came to Cairo in 1948 to work for an export/import company..she had tea at Mena house….last time she returned to Cairo was in 1963 when she had tea at the then New Nile Hilton that is now closed for renovation.
Sorry to see that so many classic buildings and hotels have been demolished or are in decay..
Thank you for enriching our world..will try to get my hand on your facinating book.
I am unable to locate a book, which I am wanting to acquire, if possible. It is called Queen of the Nile: A Historical Tribute to a Landmark Hotel. This book was written by Adel Sabet and is a history of the Semiramis hotel in Cairo. I would think that it is in English, but I know almost nothing about it and I am turning to you in hope that you can help. I have tried the usual searches, but coming up with nothing. I visited Cairo in November 2014. Touring the in Mena House in Giza and the Palace Al Gezirah (now the Marriott) was a thrill. I would welcome recommendations on any good reading on historic luxury hotels. Thanks!
The book was privately printed by the Semiramis Hotel and was never made available for sale. You might be able to get a copy if the you email the marketing department at the Semiramis, which may still be headed by a very helpful lady by the name of Nabila Samak (I got my copy from her).
Thanks! That makes sense, because I got a nice book from Mena House about their hotel, although it is a small one. Still, it is filled with fun stories of the guests, etc.
I just recently cleared out a closet and found all sorts of items, some from Africa,….. and a ashtray from the Intercontinental-Savoy Hotel Cairo.
It is in excellent condition no chips or cracks etc, it has a transfer picture of the Sphinx in the foreground and the Pyramids in the background, with the hotel name below it.
It is square shaped with each corner scooped out to place a cigarette.
On the back, shows a stamp mark of the manufacturer Bosshardt & Co Lucerne, with the date 1930.
If you would like a photograph of it I will send one.
Do you know of any collector who might be interested in purchasing this item from me ? If so, Please put them in touch with me.
I am thinking of putting it on Ebay , but not sure of its value ?
I am not sure if you recieved my message about the ashtray I have that i was from The Continental -Savoy Hotel Cairo. Please confirm ! If you did not receiveit I can resend info.
I see it has been received !
Old ashtrays like that usually go for about $20 on ebay.
I would be elated to have this ashtray! Please let me know if it is still available and provide the information on how to obtain it. I am not a dealer or collector, but a lover of beautiful, classic, fabulous hotels. I have two fat coffee table books on grand hotels. I also toured several of the remaining older hotels when I visited Cairo! It was much better than the pyramids! I was in heaven!
I hope you will contact me soon.
Thank you so much!
Was trying to find a ‘search box’ for information on your site?
Good point. I’ve just added a search function. Happy hunting!
Hi Andrew. Just came across your excellent site while researching the Semiramis Hotel for a book I’m writing based on a collection of letters I inherited from my grandmother. Her closest friend, Ethel North, was lady’s maid and companion to Lady Winifred Burghclere who was the sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Ethel wrote over 80 letters and postcards to my grandmother describing her time travelling round the world with Lady B including the section I’m working on now where they visit Egypt to meet up with Howard Carter and see all the Tutankhamun relics. They stay at the Semiramis Hotel and also the Luxor Winter Palace in early 1928 and I have headed note paper from both these hotels that Ethel’s letters from the trip are written on. If you or any of your followers would like to know more about the letters I have a website which is https://ladyburghclereandethel.com Good luck with your book. It sounds fascinating.
I’d like to use some of your images for a Victorian Science Fiction role playing game book. I’m interested in Victorian era bills, menus and similar items. Please let me know if this is possible. Thanks!
Love you pages
Email me offline and tell me more. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi Andrew. I am excited to have found your blog.
I have recently learned of the following passage in Nina Nelson’s book “Shepheards’s Hotel” published in 1960 by Redwood Press Ltd, and was wondering if you could shed any more light on it:
“ Perhaps the most pleasing of the Pharaoh’s personal eating and drinking vessels was a drinking goblet of the finest alabaster. It was in the form of an opened lotus, the handles on either side being made of clinging lotus buds, and Dr Carter had three copies made of it. One he kept for himself and one he gave to Marysal, manager of the Semiramis Hotel, the third he gave some years later to Wild Bey. … It was believed during the twenties that all those who had anything to do with the discovery and handling of the Tutankhamen treasures were under a curse of sudden death. Although this did not seem to affect Carter, many people connected with the discovery did die quickly, and in unusual circumstances; in particular Lord Carnarvon, who died of a mosquito bite. When Wild Bey heard that Marysal of the Semiramis had suddenly died he decided to get rid of his goblet and broke it into a thousand pieces.”
In particular, I would love to know anything more you have on “Marysal” and the incident in question. Huge thanks in advance.
I’d forgotten about that passage. I have never come across any reference to the events it describes anywhere else, but one day I must investigate further.
Thanks for your reply Andrew. I would love even just to know the real name of Marysal (I’m sure that was just his nickname, just as “Wild Bey” was a nickname). Is it maybe mentioned in that little book containing the history of the Semiramis that you mention earlier on this page? If not, do you know where I might go to find it out?
Wild Bey isn’t a nickname: he’s Auguste Wild, and bey is an Egyptian honorific. If I get time later this week I will go hunting Mnsr Marysal.
Many thanks for your reply and for being prepared to follow up Marysal for me. I really appreciate it, (And sincere apologies for using the word “nickname” re Wild Bey. It would have been much more accurate to use a term like “contraction”. For your visitors, “Wild Bey was a Swiss man … whom the Khedive of Egypt created a “Bey” ie Chieftain. Wild was associated with several Egyptian hotels notably the Savoy and later hotels in Britain. He is the author of “Mixed Grill in Cairo ””,)
Dear Mr. Humphreys:
Just ordered ‘On the Nile’ and so looking forward. I’m a lay historian and world traveler with Jan Morris as my favourite non-fiction writer (for now…). In my travels I favor historic or colonial hotels/experiences – my stays have included The Goring in London, Chateau Frontenac and Chateau Laurier, The Mount Nelson in Cape Town, the Carlton in Cannes, The Norfolk in Nairobi, the Mount Kenya Safari Club, the Belmond Orient Express train and others. Next up is Marrakech and the Dar Ahlam in Ouarzazate Morocco. Still to visit would be Raffles Singapore, Amangalla Sri Lanka, India… My inquiry is around Cairo, Luxor and Aswan and your thoughts around best/luxury properties with a colonial feel (Sofitel Old Cataract Aswan?). We do hope to do a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan. Thank you for time and reply and helping us walk the halls and dine where Evelyn Baring may have done likewise…
The Old Cataract in Aswan, absolutely. It’s a beautiful hotel. The Winter Palace at Luxor is a little shabby these days and the food is atrocious but it maintains an imposing presence and sense of history. In Cairo the choice is between the Mena House, where some of the rooms have Pyramid views but the hotel is a good hour or more out of the city centre. I much prefer the Marriott, which is built around the old Gezira Palace on the banks of the Nile. I also love the Windsor, although it is far stronger on atmosphere than comforts.
Dear Mr. Humphreys:
Thank you for taking out the time and your thoughtful advice.
One would think Sofitel standards at the Winter Palace would have improved things. I did find information on the Marriott and the main building Gezirah Palace looks wonderful. We’re thinking of a Sanctuary Retreats 4-night cruise from Luxor to Aswan with your book in hand. Sanctuary is an Abercrombie & Kent entity and they’ve managed our trips to Kenya, So Africa and soon Morocco. I envision their oversight in Egypt as well.
Thank you again and it’s nice to connect across the oceans with another aficionado of antiquity and the grandeur of times past. In her Pax Britannica trilogy, Jan Morris wrote, ‘Say farewell to the trumpets for you will hear them no more, but their sweet sad silvery echo will call you still through the half closed door.’
All the best,
Amazing Site, well researched and well done. It would be nice if you could put some info on the old monarchy.
Hi Andrew. Have you ever heard/seen any mention of the Hotel Albat in Alexandria from around 1877? If yes, could you give me a source or any info. I am reading a letter written by an army captain, in which he mentions that he stayed there.
That would be the Abbat, which stood at the top of Mohammed Ali Square. Give me a few days and I’ll post something on it.
Thank you. Your site is amazing. I’m totally enthralled. I’m reading a rare book of letters written from Palestine, by Capt. AC Hamilton, Royal Engineers, during a trip there. He probably mis-spelled the Abbat. Looking forward to your posts.
Dear Mr. Humphreys,
Thank you for your work on your website and book – I’m currently writing an essay on how Egyptomania influenced tourism’s development for my degree, and ‘Grand Hotels’ has proven to be especially important as part of my research. Can I ask if there are any other sites/resources that I could look into that might be especially useful?
I’m currently reading “Grand Hotels of Egypt” and absolutely love your writing. The information is fascinating. My father grew up in Cairo during the 1920’s and 30’s and I’ve been going to Cairo since I was a child. I had no idea this rich (albeit racist and misogynistic) world existed. Most of my childhood was spent being whisked into cars to visit far flung relatives around the city, but some of my favorite memories are of the architecture left over from these impossibly beautiful buildings.
Your books certainly capture the flavor of a time long gone. I’m so glad you have done this research!
7 years ago I commented on your Fb page that Auguste Wild was my great great uncle. You asked me to get in touch but unfortunately I just saw that message today! Did you know that Auguste wrote a book called Mixed Grill in Cairo in 1952? A copy has come into my possession since my father’s death.
On your FB page you say ‘ Auguste Wild married Nungovich’s sister Anna’ but according to my family tree he married Josephine Stutz, had a son Robert who had a daughter called Anna. I’ve never heard anything about him being married twice.
If you have any pictures of him or the Savoy at that time, I would love to see them.
Clearly, whoever put the family tree together got it wrong. Auguste did marry Anna Koch in May 1900 at St. Joseph’s Church in Cairo. She was Nungovich’s wife’s sister.
Hello Andrew Humphreys,
my name is Waltraud Ehrhardt and I am researching about the early years of my grandparents who travelled the world of hotellerie before settling down with an own hotel in Germany in 1910-11.
I bought and studied your great book ‘Grand Hotels of Egypt’ and found some remarkable hints that clarified the job-trips of my grandparents. My grandmother (Swiss) worked in the AL HAYAT in Helouan in the year 1906-07 as gouvernante d’office. My grandfather (German) worked in the SHEPHEARDS HOTEL as sommelier d’étage in the year 1902-03. If you are able to help me with hints, pictures, articles or else I would be very grateful!
I am in constant contact with Evelyn Lüthi-Graf of Swiss Hotel Archives and she recommended to contact you in this matter.
Many thanks and all the best! Waltraud Ehrhardt
A book on Shepheards was recently published. I heard the author speak about the research he was doing. You might find it interesing. https://www.amazon.com/Shepheards-Cairo-Oriental-Menschen-Forschungen/dp/3954903687
Yes, that’s Tarek Ibrahim’s book. I met Tarek a few years back when he was still doing his research. There are one or two posts on this site about Tarek and the book.
did you ever come accross the German Family Schaich (one Baedeker of 1908 says “L. Schaich”) as Directors of the Luxor Hotel and the Winter Palace in Luxor since about 1905 ? Certainly 1916 Schaich still was Director of the Winter Palace. I try to find out, what became of the Schaich-Familiy in Egypt and Cairo later, up to the forties.
Thanks for any hint!
All the best
While doing research on my childhood days in Alexandria, Egypt, in the 1950s, I came across your wonderful website! Thank you so much for your impeccable research and all the photographs you’ve posted.
One question, where can I find the pictorial map you occasionally post of Cairo? Who drew it? And do you have access to a similar map of Alexandria?
Thanks again for your great work and please add me to your mailing list.
The map is from Schindler’s Guide to Cairo, which is covered in a blog post somewhere on the site. There is also a Schindler’s Guide to Alexandria, which I thought I had but can’t lay my hands on at the moment. I imagine it might well have a map of Alexandria in a similar style to the Cairo map. You might be able to find a copy on ebay, which is where I found my Cairo guide.
I am in possession of what appear to be brass patterns/templates for possibly embroidery, textiles or tapestries wit the embossed stamped name of Hotel Du Nil Claire Egypte Henri Ch. Friedmann. Also embossed on the brass templates is<e De Rivoli Paris. Along with the brass patterns/templates are paper patterns of same design with indications of what colors to use. I have been researching these for years and only recently came across your blog. Do you know anyone who may be able to identify what these are? It appears to me they were patterns for part of the interior of the hotel.
I am working on the account of a British traveller who spent 2 months on the Nile in 1893. At one point he referred to the dahabiya having been “engaged by Es-sit in London”. I can find no trace of “Es-sit”. He was an educated man who had a little spoken Arabic from 30 years before and had fluent Turkish and Modern Greek; he may have transcribed or misspelt a term he heard (in whatever language) but what he wrote would have been a serious attempt to render it accurately. Do you, please, have any leads you can give me on what this means? Thank you.
It means simply ‘the lady’. His wife? Mother?
Thank you. A mystery solved (on which I had tried Google Translate, but unsuccessfully). This therefore refers to the person who hired the dahabiya; he was not explicit and I had assumed she had hired it in Cairo, in the customary way. Your reply prompts another question, if you do not mind, please: do you think that hiring in London means it was likely to have been done through one of the big travel firms like T Cook or Gaze? He gives the cost of the trip; it was less per capita than the guidebooks suggested was likely (perhaps because there were 5 in the party), and e.g. the contemporary Baedeker says it was cheaper to hire privately than through a travel firm. So I am left wondering. Incidentally, my person, a former British Consul in the Levant, sailed in the Philae of A Edwards fame, and has interesting things to say on how it had been modified in the intervening 20 years. He also corrected some of Edwards’s measurements! And there is other interest in his account; for example, he had long conversations with Prof Sayce, and met Percy Newberry and the very young Howard Carter. In due course I hope to make the diary available for a wider audience, though how I have still to establish. Thank you.
Hi, did you know that the Windsor Hotel has closed? If you look it up on Google maps you can see some photos of the bar area stripped out, as of April 2022. Do you have an Instagram?