The Mena House Hotel, My first stop on my return to Egypt
Come to Mena House Hotel, our first stop on my return to Egypt.Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George
The historic Mena House Hotel in Giza provided our first accommodation in Egypt. On my previous tour of this fascinating country, a brief stop at the Mena House for lunch, in the shadow of the pyramids, had whet my appetite to revisit this exotic hotel. Now, I was actually going to stay there, many years later. Close proximity to the pyramids made this a popular luxury hotel for European society spilling over from their Grand Tours, from the time it first opened its doors as a hotel in 1886.
The Mena House was built as a royal hunting lodge in 1869 by the Khedive Ismail, who was the ruler of Egypt from 1863 to 1879. When the Khedive no longer ruled the country the property was sold to a very rich English couple. They bought it as their own retreat. Two years later they sold it to a second wealthy couple who saw the possibilities for turning this into a luxurious hotel. The second couple added to the building. Because of this succession of wealthy owners, Mena House contained an abundance of precious antiques, exotic furnishings and items fit for a king. They remained in the buildings. They have been lovingly looked after by those who have been charged with their care from that day to this. As a result, the hotel has retained some of the Arabic influence of the Khedive, but additionally to this, the wealthy British couples, whose good taste for fine things, added to the mix. The luxurious interiors are resplendent with Moorish antiques, gilded furnishings and decor. The result is an exotic hotel, which has been a member of The Leading Hotels of the World since it was renovated in 1971.
This once grand lodge has now evolved into a luxurious hotel, sprawling over 40 acres of green lush gardens, with a huge outdoor pool and grounds that are used for many activities. Flame trees, with their bright red foliage, provide contrast to the many palm trees that dot the landscape. Over the years the property has been used, at various times, for golf, tennis, croquet, and shooting, with hunting out in the desert. Once upon a time there were stables on the property with both Arabian and English horses with carts available for the guests to use for visits to the pyramids. Now, carefully manicured lawns cover some of those sites.
A huge red and white floral display greeted us as we entered the Mena House Hotel, now a Marriot property. Fit for royal personages, yes, and many famous persons have been their guests. I saw a glass case with portraits of some of their famous guests, going back as far as the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III. Their faces were easily recognized. Kings, Emperors, Heads of State and a multitude of celebrities have been guests here. It shows that the Mena House and the neighbouring Pyramids have been attracting tourists here for many decades.
Two events were significant in expanding the popularity of this place. One was the visit from the Empress Eugenie. Because of this visit, the road was built from Cairo to the Pyramids. (The prospect of this visit must have created quite a furor in Egypt, because on my previous visit to Egypt, I stayed in a hotel in Cairo that was built for her visit. It was a very nice hotel too.) She must have enjoyed her stay here as she came back again a number of years later. The other event was the opening of the Suez Canal. This no doubt changed much of the dynamics of tourism and commerce in the area.
The two World Wars created notable events at the hotel. During the First World War the place was turned into a hospital for the duration of the war. After the war the antiques were taken out of storage and it was back to business. During World War Two, the famous Cairo Big Three Conference of 1943 was held in Mena House, with President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek all in attendance. Also attending that conference, with her husband, was Madame Chiang Kai Shek, who acted as his interpreter and secretary. Madame Chiang spoke fluent English, as she was educated in the United States.
In 1979, another notable historic event took place when President Jimmy Carter of the United States and Prime Minister Menachan Began of Israel, met with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt at Mena House. This meeting preceded the Camp David Accord when the three met in the USA.
We were in Egypt during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. That evening a Muslim celebration was taking place out in the gardens, after their day of fasting and prayer came to an end. There was a joyful atmosphere with music, lights and laughter. It was a pleasure to hear the festivities.
My most cherished moment, while a guest at the Mena House, came the last thing before retiring for the night, I sat on a lounge chair on the private patio outside of my room, and enjoyed the moonlit view of Cheops, the Great Pyramid, through the palm trees. I was enchanted. Time stood still.
Story by M. Maxine George
Pictures by M. Maxine George, Marion George, Mario and Julie Bergeron
Last Updated on December 21, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster