CAIRO: In the shadow of the great pyramids of Giza lies Cairo’s most historic hotel, Mena House.
This legendary hotel has played host to kings, queens and heads of state, including Empress Eugenie of France and Winston Churchill, as well as well-known figures such as Agatha Christie and Charlie Chaplin.
Mena House was originally a hunting lodge built by Khedive Ismail for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, to receive Empress Eugenie and other dignitaries who attended the event.
In 1883, Frederick and Jessie Head, a couple on their honeymoon, acquired the former hunting lodge and enlarged the house and added a second floor. Finding the air beneficial, they built a small sanatorium, hoping that invalids might recover there and gain a new lease of life.
As they sought a name for their estate, Professor A.H. Saya made the suggestion that it should be called Mena House, after the first king referenced in the Tablet of Abydos.
A few years later, Mena House was sold to another wealthy couple, Hugh and Ethel Locke-King, Once the couple had settled into their desert house, Ethel decided to create a hotel. She hired a Cairo-based English architect, Henri Favarger, to create their hotel, plotted out in the desert beside the lodge, which the Locke-Kings retained as their own private residence.
The Mena House “family hotel,” with 80 guest rooms, was opened in 1887. Rooms were spacious with 10 foot-high ceilings, fireplaces, and were furnished with English furniture.
The hotel had a billiard room, a darkroom for amateur photographers, a studio for artists, a stylish dining room, a library, and the services of a French chef in the fashionable restaurant. The Italian photographer Fasani had his studio at the hotel.
Four years after the opening, a swimming bath was added to the hotel, the first of its kind in Egypt.
The 1913-1914 tourism season was a great success in Egypt, but World War I came to the country — and with it martial law. A camp was erected behind Mena House to host the Australian troops. It later became a hospital, and remained so for the rest of the war.
In 1943, Mena House had one of its most exciting years. Plans for Overlord, the invasion of Europe, had to be discussed by Churchill and Roosevelt, and operations in Southeast Asia needed consultation with Gen. Chiang Kai-shek. It was decided that the Big Three conference should take place at the Mena House Hotel, where the independence of the Korean Peninsula was announced.
In 1954, the Egyptian hotels company was nationalized and the ownership and management of Mena House was given to the Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels (EGOTH).
In 1972, the hotel was meticulously renovated and expansions incorporated. A new wing with 300 rooms was added as well as a new swimming pool, and a new lobby was built in place of the old tennis court.
In 1977, Mena House was the official venue for the Mena House Conference, the pre-Camp David peace talks between Egypt and Israel.
In February 2018, Mena House became a member of the Marriott International family and was renamed Marriott Mena House, Cairo. The hotel now features 330 rooms and suites, three restaurants, a lounge bar, extensive banquet and conference facilities for up to 700 guests and a large outdoor banquet space for up to 2,000 guests. Recreational facilities include a large swimming pool, heated in winter, and a spa and fitness center.
Those who have stayed at the hotel include King Farouk of Egypt, US President Richard Nixon, King Gustav of Sweden, King Umberto of Italy, Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie and the English military commander Field Marshal Montgomery. The wing where Montgomery stayed still carries his name.