Friday, April 3, 2009

Take Me to The Hilton

The Hilton please, of course Sir! When arriving at Cairo’s International Airport in the 60’s and 70’s, hop into a taxi and ask for the Hilton and there would be no question as to where you wanted to go. Of course there were other hotels in Cairo, just as famous but anyone who was anybody stayed at the Nile Hilton. Shepheards had burnt to the ground previously and the new Shepheards was struggling to regain its former glory. The Semiramis was looking old and tired around the edges and The Mena House was in a different class of its own.

What Cairo needed was an American style mega hotel and Conrad Hilton was just the person to deliver it. The new hotel was dominant in its location on the banks of the Nile, scale, whiteness and extraordinary in its modernity. The site was prime real estate in Cairo. The front of the building facing the Nile on the Corniche and the back of the building overlooking Freedom Square and the Egyptian Museum. The façade facing the Nile was a gleaming edifice of white, with an unbroken grid like pattern that was formed by the balconies of each room overlooking the Nile. The back of the hotel’s façade was similar to the front however this time we had the grid pattern interrupted by service stairs and elevator shafts. Surrounding the hotel was a wonderful multicoloured glass mosaic (now obscured by an ugly conference centre), representing the symbols of Ancient Egypt, in colours that would make Tutankhamen jealous. This was a building of stark modernity that contrasted heavily with the belle époque and Moorish style buildings that predominated Cairo. To cap it all off on the top of the building a sign proclaiming Hilton’s ownership, that has now become an icon.

Interior wise Ancient Egypt came to life with a modern glamorous twist. The lobby was dominated with a huge stone bas relief displaying an ancient hunting scene that was cast from an original in the Egyptian Museum. Small replicas adorned the walls of each guest room. A stylized lotus pattern was used on the fabrics that adorned the rooms and were represented in the main coffee shop painted on the walls in a fabulous teal colour. A friend of mine who stayed in the late 60’s can remember shag pile so deep you could lose a shoe in it.

This was an era of stark contrasts. Guests displayed themselves on the open balconies above a city in which the normal populous would remain behind closed doors. You could sit on one’s balcony after an excursion out to the pyramids and then marvel at where you had just been, while being attended to by an Arab waiter.

Sadly this is the end of an era. The Hilton has now closed and Ritz Carlton has taken over the management contract, and will completely refurbish the hotel. This could and probably will go horribly wrong. I just hope that Ritz Carlton will maintain the integrity of the original building and all it stands for.

1 comment:

  1. Have stayed in the Nile Hilton several times and it is a beautiful as you say it is and a bit more. I always felt exactly what you were describing, a sense of opulence and grandeur that did not exist in all the other major hotels in Cairo. Not even the celebrated marriott with the old palace in between the new buildings.


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