— Grand Continental Hotel

Grand Continental Hotel

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One of Cairo’s historic 19th century hotels, The Grand Continental Hotel is in danger of collapse due to intentional negligence. The hotel sits at a prime location overlooking Azbakiya Gardens and old Opera Square with the statue of Ibrahim Pasha straddling a horse looking on. It isn’t clear if the current hotel building opened in the 1860s or 1880s. We know that in the 1860s there was a grand hotel at this location that competed with the famous and now gone Shepheard’s Hotel on the same street. The hotel housed some of Khedive Ismail’s guests during their visit to Cairo for the festivities surrounding the opening of the Suez Canal.

The hotel underwent multiple renovations in the 1880s, 1890s and 1900s. Some older pictures show the hotel having a more elaborate facade with columns carrying an over-sized pediment.

The owners of Grand Continental built another hotel on Soliman Pasha Square (today Talaat Harb) which was the Savoy and together the two hotels were known as the Continental-Savoy Hotels. During WWI the British military overtook the Savoy Hotel as their headquarters and it never re-opened. The property was purchased by Behlar who destroyed the building and replaced it with the current structure overlooking Talaat Harb Square today known as the Behlar Building (with the Parisian roof).

The current Grand Continental building has a simple, if modern, facade of four very tall levels. The front of the building is now covered with a row of shops selling men’s suits and tailoring fabrics. Behind those shops the original building is an H-shaped structure with a central court. It appears that the structure is combination masonry with timber floors and ceilings.

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I haven’t been able to locate a specific date when the hotel stopped operation but I suspect it was among the old hotels that were targeted in the violence of 1952. It is currently owned by a public company, which means it is in government hands. Another rumor purports that it is owned by a Saudi Businessman. The property sits empty awaiting an unknown fate. I stopped by and spoke with the two men charged with guarding the property and they were convinced this building could not be saved, contrary to its sturdy appearance. I suspect an expert was never called to inspect the property and how it can be remedied.

I am afraid this historic building, which isn’t protected by current laws and regulations, has been given a death sentence by the government and is currently awaiting execution. Many buildings of similar caliber have faced a similar fate. These buildings are of architectural and historic value and could be opportunities for investment and urban development yet the government insists on allowing Egypt’s modern heritage to slip away into oblivion.

Perhaps the building is still haunted by the curse of King Tut. It was here that the man who funded the search for Tut’s tomb, Lord Carnarvon, was staying. After Carter found the tomb, Lord Carnarvon was bitten by a mosquito on his cheek and later died in his room at the Grand Continental Hotel.

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It isn’t clear why something such as this grand historic hotel is left abandoned while foreign, mostly Saudi investment, in hotels goes towards building architectural monsters such as the Four Seasons Hotel. Why is the government not allowing investment to save such historic and unique structures and return them to their former glory instead of allowing the building of generic five star towers that can be found anywhere else in the region.

The Grand Continental Hotel needs to be saved, it is clear that it is only a matter of time before it too follows the fate of other buildings like it and cease to exist.

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