Historic Hotels of Egypt
by Steven Allan
One of the fascinating achievements of British influence in many former colonies of the British Empire is that the past has almost been frozen in time. While the British themselves were quick to shed the garments of the Victorian tradition and embrace the modern age, the former colonies, because of either financial difficulties or a sort of nostalgia, have preserved the era.
The outstanding architecture that the British left behind enriches many cities of the Middle East. The British embraced the motifs and styles of the Islamic tradition, incorporating them into the new styles of the 19th century. This admiration for local traditions shows a respect that was lacking in the way the British viewed the local population.
The conservation of colonial architecture is nowhere more apparent than in the numerous hotels scattered throughout Egypt. These hotels, out of a conscious effort to assume a past glory, have maintained the age of exploration in Africa with a passion.
In the past, these colonial hotels eased the pioneering Europeans' transition from home to an often hostile and unknown environment. The hotels, in their architecture and atmosphere, were the first genuine representatives of Europe in Africa.
The impression they maintained was both familiar and strange: tea and exotic drinks, Oxford English mixed with the native tongue, Victorian garments enhanced with the local attire, European architecture blended with an Islamic sense of form.
On an oceanfront or riverside, usually near a jetty or landing port, these hotels were features of the maritime age, the time of exploration when, it is said, the world divided into two peoples: Englishmen and everyone else.
The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt as seen from the Nile River.
Photo: Steven Allan
The lobby of the Old Cataract Hotel with Moorish style furniture and rounded arches made of black and white stone.
Photo: Steven Allan
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