InterContinental Cairo Semiramis
Review, photos and history of
the hotel in the Egyptian capital
Article added on April 14, 2012 at 10:28 London time; last update on April 24,
Impressions from my last stay at the luxury hotel
One of the most pleasant ways to help a country in economic difficulties is
to spend money there as a tourist. Travel to Egypt!
Situated on the bank of the Nile,
InterContinental Cairo Semiramis is a well managed luxury hotel in the
Egyptian capital. It made an excellent impression when I last saw it at the
2007. No wonder, its lobby and restaurants had last been renovated that same
year. The hotel interior designers of the 2002 and 2007 refurbishments were
the Paris-based Pierre-Yves Rochon
and the New York City-based Tony Chi.
Italian restaurant Pane Vino with its mushroom risotto made by its Italian chef was
excellent to the point that I went there twice for it. Since I was not in
the hotel for a restaurant review, I did not interview the chef. Maybe in
May 2012, I will find out whether he is still there and whether the food is
still that good.
On a clear day, I could not only overlook the city from my double room on
the 14th floor, I could even see the Pyramids in Giza some 20km away!
Incidentally, all the rooms at the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis have a
balcony. Just try to book one on the Nile side.
Above all, the Semiramis is ideally situated, just three minutes on foot
from the Egyptian Museum; in a few years, large parts of the fabulous
collection will be moved to a brand new museum in Giza.
The hotel history of the Intercontinental Cairo Semiramis
The Semiramis opened as an InterContinental hotel in 1987 with over 700
rooms and suites. In its huge ballrooms - the Cleopatra ballroom alone can
accommodate up to 2000 guests - the hotel has hosted an uncountable number
of weddings and parties; during my short stay in 2008 alone, I witnessed two
huge weddings by Egypt's upper class families there.
The history of the Semiramis however dates back much further than 1987. A
booklet entitled Queen of the Nile by the late Adel Mahmoud Sabet,
King Farouk's cousin and biographer, tells its story in English and Arabic;
the English version fills some 31 pages of the illustrated brochure.
In 1907, the Semiramis Hotel, a work by the Italian engineer Tuilo Parvis, was inaugurated in the prestigious quarter of Kasr el Doubara, back then a place of elegant gardens and town houses.
Khedive Ismail, inspired by the Paris works of Baron Haussmann, turned Cairo
into a city of large avenues and luxuriant gardens.
In 1864, my fellow Swiss, the son of a peasant, the great hotelier Franz
Josef Bucher (1834-1906), and his brother-in-law, Josef Durrer (1841-1919),
had founded the company Bucher-Durrer, which owned and run, among other
businesses, a series of luxury hotels. Its portfolio included the Palace,
the Grand Hotel and the Parc Hotel in Bürgenstock (Lucerne) as well as the
Grand Hotel Quirinal in Rome, to mention just a few.
In 1907, Bucher-Durrer Hotels, with its representatives Max and Theodore
Bucher, opened the Semiramis Hotel at Cairo's Nile
Corniche, which attracted the Egyptian and international high-society with
its elegantly furnished Louis XVI salons, Gobelins on the walls and rooms
decorated in the Empire style by Keller & Co. from Zurich.
With the exception of the Gezira Palace Hotel, the Semiramis
was the first hotel built on the shores of the Nile, situated somewhere between the British
Embassy and the British army base.
As early as in 1910, Bucher-Durrer sold their controlling shares of the
Semiramis to their fellow Swiss,
Charles Baehler, who had worked in Egypt since 1889 to become the owner of
the Egyptian Hotels Company, which also controlled the Gezirah Palace Hotel
and the legendary Shepheards. The Shepheards was destroyed in later years
and rebuilt as a modern hotel next to the Semiramis. In 2008, Shepheards was
a rather dull four-star hotel. [Added on April 15, 2012: The world is small.
Staying once again at London's excellent
Brown's Hotel, I have just learned that the Shepheard Hotel is
already under the management of Rocco Forte and should be fully refurbished
Charles Baehler, who died in 1937 as the Semiramis owner [according to some
sources, he had sold his hotel empire in 1932], was The
hotel tycoon in Egypt because, as the founder of the Upper Egypt Hotels
Company in 1905 (or 1906), he also operated the Cataract Hotel in Aswan and the Winter
Palace hotel in Luxor, both currently under management by Sofitel. Baehler
Arcade, Baehler Mansions and Baehler Passage were a few other additions of
the Swiss to the Cairo landscape.
In 1920, an Egyptian hotel company bought the adjacent land to the Semiramis and built a
hotel extension consisting of 4 floors with 16 rooms each. British troops
occupied the hotel twice, during the First World War from November 1915
until March 1916 and during the Second World War from 1940 until 1946.
Only after the Second World War, the Semiramis opened both in winter and
summer. It then featured Cairo's first elevators, brassbound mahogany
marvels. It also featured Cairo's first European style nightclub. When I
stayed at the very different new building, the InterConti's nightclub was
According to Adel Sabet, the Semiramis witnessed numerous Fishing Fleets.
“English ladies on the hunt for prospective and adequate husbands for their
daughters.” Lonely officers of the British aristocracy stationed in Cairo
were easy victims. Agatha Christie wrote in her autobiography: “Cairo from
the point of view of a girl was a dream delight. We spent three months there
and I went to five dances a week.”
Among the hotels memorable
moments was weighing of the Aga Khan III ceremony, which took place
in 1955 or 1956 and during which Aga Khan III (1877-1957) was asked to accept the modest gift of
200,000 gold pound coins.
Famous guests at Hotel Semiramis included Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter,
who discovered the tomb of
Amun (German article), Lord Kitchener, the leading tenor of his time,
Enrico Caruso, Winston Churchill, King Fuad and King Farouk, who was a
frequent visitor, much to the delight of the tourists, Aristotle Onassis as
well as a certain Lady Idina Gordon, who later became notorious because she
was involved in the murder of her husband in Kenya; her story was turned
into a movie White Mischief
(german review), which was banned in the UK!
During the 1956 Suez crisis, when the British and the French attacked
Nasser's Egypt, foreign correspondents were rounded up and detained at the
Semiramis. Colonel Slade Baker of the London Sunday Times had the
nerve to complain that the Semiramis had run out of its best Champagne!
When the original Semiramis Hotel closed for good in 1974, most of its historic
furniture and its antiques were distributed among the hotels of the owning
company, namely El Nile, Sheherezade and Omar El Khayyam, today's Marriott
Hotel. The rest was sold in a public auction, where a Lady Lami Mofarag
bought the complete bedroom suite of the room she had lived in for a decade.
The historic Semiramis was completely destroyed to give way to the 1987
InterContinental Cairo Semiramis. It is owned by the Egyptian Hotel Company
(EGOTH) and a group of Saudi investors.
The legend and legendary history of Queen Semiramis
Incidentally, Semiramis was both a historic and legendary Queen of Assyria and Babylon;
the historic one is considered to have reigned from 810 BC until 806 BC. She is said to be the founder or
restorer of the city of Babylon. During her reign, she fought both the
Persians and the Libyans. One of the Seven Wonders of the World,
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was attributed to her reign. According
to the legend, after her death, Semiramis became a bird worshipped by her
people. In fact, there were several queens named Semiramis, making it easier
for facts and legends to merge. The Assyrians, the Armenians, the Greek and
many others told her story in different versions already in ancient times. For the Jews, Semiramis is
the wife of Nimrod, one of four women who ruled the world. European writers
of the Middle Ages until the present as well as several opera composers added their
interpretations of the story. One thing is clear, the hotel
InterContinental Cairo Semiramis is not a legend, but real!
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The imposing façade of the luxury hotel. Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis.
The luxury hotel InterContinental Cairo Semiramis seen from the other side of
Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis. -
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View of an executive suite. Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis.
A Club Nile View Room. Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis. -
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The hotel pool. In addition, the Semiramis also offers a health club with a gym,
sun deck, sauna, Turkish bath and massage room. Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis.
The balcony of the excellent Italian restaurant Pane Vino, where I tasted
an excellent mushroom risotto back in 2007. Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis.
The Lebanese Sabaya restaurant. Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis.
On a clear day, I could not only overlook the city from my double room on the
14th floor, I could even see the Pyramids in Giza some 20km away! Of course not
in such a detail as on this photograph. Photos © InterContinental Cairo Semiramis.