At nearly 120 years old, this storied Egyptian landmark is succumbing to the ravages of time, but there’s still hope for it just yet.
Cairo’s oldest hotel – the Continental-Savoy – has been undergoing demolition for a bit over two weeks ago, against outcry from a variety of heritage enthusiasts, activists and appreciative architectural minds.
Thanks to a recent announcement by the Holding Company for Tourism and Hotels (HOTAC), there’s hope yet for the centennial centerpiece. The Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels (EGOTH) – official owner of the Continental – and the National Organization for Urban Harmony, have agreed on an entirely new design for the hotel, on the condition that it keeps its historical exterior (frontal) façade overlooking Adly street, in addition to all necessary standard adjustments and structural considerations.
Doctor Mervat Hataba – chairwoman of HOTAC- said in a statement that the new continental project will be up for investment in order to fund the endeavour – costing around one and a half billion EGP - with investors getting appropriate cuts of the returns along with EGOTH.The new Continental will see an increase in its total number of hotel rooms, going from its original 176 to 248 rooms in total, as well as 16 special suites. The hotel’s original grand halls and ballrooms will also be reconstructed and will retain their original names. The controversial construction of the new Continental will commence once the remnants of the hotel are all but demolished, and the surrounding shops cleared.
Originally established in 1899 and built in the stead of an even older hotel – “New Hotel” – in 1877, The Continental occupied an entire city block; overlooking Opera square and the Azbakiyah gardens. Its front terrace was host to many fabulous balls and celebrations, with many famous guests lodging in the once lavish hotel; the likes of T.E Lawrence (as in Lawrence of Arabia) on his arrival in 1914 as well as George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who was the chief financial backer of the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The owners of the Continental were able to purchase a town block from the Egyptian Royal family and establish it as an extension of the hotel – which became the Continental-Savoy – however, it became the headquarters of the British occupational forces circa World War 1, and ceased its activity as a hotel.
The Continental was the main rival of the then world-renowned Shepheard’s hotel, which succumbed to the violence of the January 1952 riots, the Continental had been unscathed during the revolt, only to start it’s slow, melancholic fall into decrepitude. What was once a glimmering landmark in the cultural centre of the Middle East had become a rundown shell of its former glory, with its four stories and over 300 rooms ravaged by time, theft, natural disasters (the 1992 earthquake) and negligence, and its premises becoming home to a variety of workshops, clothes stores, shanties and all-around disarray.
Will the EGP 1.5 billion reconstruction project prove to be the remedy needed to fix this once and for all? We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, we may as well bid the 120-year-old building sweet farewell. It had a good run for all what it is worth.