Grand Hotels of Egypt in the Golden Age of Travel, by Andrew Humphreys. American University in Cairo Press, 2012. 216 pp, illustrated throughout.
ISBN 978 416 496 5. $29.
Many of the hotels Andrew Humphreys writes about—or their direct successors—we have visited: The Mena House at the Pyramids (almost my favourite hotel in the world) the Winter Palace in Luxor, the Cataract in Aswan. Until now what the tourists said of them was said only in passing, in their diaries and letters home. Now we have a deeper knowledge of a whole new angle of travel. (Perhaps ASTENE should consider a tour of Egypt in these hotels.)
Andrew Humphreys introduces us to travellers with whom we may not be so familiar: for example, Thomas Waghorn (the son of a butcher from Chatham), who opened up the journey from Alexandria to the Red Sea through Cairo.
In the 1830s, the hotels were, as Thackeray wrote, ‘bringing the Pyramids a month nearer to wouldbe travellers in Europe’. And then came Thomas Cook, with a tour to Egyp and the Holy Land in 1869. Tourist hotels continued rare into the 1870s, and the European consuls were inundated with requests for somewhere to stay. Henry Salt rarely had his consular house to himself. But from 1870 tourists began to pour into Cairo and up the Nile—a flood which has flowed almost continuously since, encouraged by travel posters reproduced here in full colour—presenting a bright land where the sun shone through the winter.
Humphreys also takes his reader to Alexandria, up Pompey’s pillar (with a picnic atop) and to the new hotels in the city—at first not so posh as the hotels in Cairo. Today it i the Cecil that gives us a real sense of times past, though the Marriot in Cairo has retained a sense of 19th-century grandeur. The Winter Palace at Luxor has ups and downs, but the sunset across the Nile is always there. The Cataract— another favourite—rose above the Nile at the start of 1900—not quite finished, though ‘men were actively engaged in laying the electric light installations’.
The contemporary photographs and drawings take us back to a time before our own, and we must thank Andrew Humphreys for providing a real treat for his readers.