Mena House Hotel
Review, history and photos of the
legendary Oberoi hotel in Giza near the Pyramids
Added on January 30, 2013
The management contract with the Indian
Oberoi group ended on December 31, 2012. The
Egyptian General Company For Tourism & Hotels (EGOTH) is
currently selecting a new management companies, with several bidders remaining.
I last stayed at the Mena House Hotel in 2012. The Oberoi General Manger at the
time was Mohit
Nirula. He told me about the renovation project which, unfortunately, was
not carried through as planned in the summer of 2012.
However, the historic building of the Mena House Hotel with its public spaces
and private rooms needs a renovation. Especially the
bathrooms and the air-conditioning system have to be replaced. The rest of the
landmark building should undergo a soft renovation, retaining the fabulous style of this
Customers should not worry about the renovation closing because there is an
entire new complex behind the historic Mena House with contemporary rooms, a great gym,
outdoor pools and restaurants. The hotel will remain open for business during
the renovation of the historic building!
Last but not least, I forgot to write one great story from my 2007-visit, when I
had a look at the guest book together with vice-director Tarek Lotfy. During the
Second World War, the commander of the German forces, Erwin Rommel, stayed at
the Mena House. After the battle of El Alamein, a certain Field Marshall
Montgomery was a guest of the luxury hotel too. He proudly signed the same page
of the guest book the famous
“Desert Fox” had with the words
“Montgomery of Alamein”!
Article added on January 14, 2008; last update on January 22, 2008
There are luxury hotels and there are legends. The Mena House,
an Oberoi hotel, belongs to the latter category.
before the ascent to the Great Pyramid in Giza, just about an hour by taxi from Cairo airport, if offers an oasis - quite literally as well as
figuratively - of wellbeing, comfort, class and style at the fringes of the Egyptian desert.
Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1797, with the treasures he subsequently brought to
Europe, as well as Giovanni Belzoni's research from 1815 onwards spread Egypt-mania
around the globe. The land of the Pharaohs became a major attraction for
travelers. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 further increased the
attraction of the 'exotic' destination. Thomas Cook's first trip to Egypt took place the same year.
Incidentally, the Great Pyramid is the oldest and tallest of the pyramids
in Giza. Built around 2560 BC, it is also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the
Pyramid of Cheops. According to the ancient historian and priest Manetho, Khufu
aka Cheops, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, reigned for 23 years from
2589 to 2566 BC. It is only possible for a limited number of visitors to climb
into the Pyramid. I had the chance to do so. There is nothing to see inside.
Still, once you are there, you wish to see it with your own eyes. Most
impressive is to stand in front of it or, if you are lucky like me, just to
watch it from your room's private balcony at the Mena House.
The Mena House hotel grew out of a former Khedival hunting lodge close to the
Great Pyramid. Incidentally, Muhammad Ali - not the box champion - who had
restored the Ottoman Empire's authority in Egypt after Napoleon's defeat and
subsequently became the Pasha and Wāli of Egypt, had
claimed the grander title of Khedive for himself and his successors. The
Khedival lodge was a two story house nicknamed the 'mud hut' built in 1869 for
King Ismail the Magnificent. He used it for himself and his guests, whilst hunting
in the desert or visiting the pyramids at Giza. The Khedive lodge was enlarged
and Pyramid Road from Cairo to Giza was built for the visit of Empress Eugenie in
Until today, the Mena House remains by far the most famous hotel near the
Pyramids in Giza. In 1883, Frederick and Jessie Head bought the Khedival hunting
lodge on their honeymoon. They enlarged it and built a second floor. Jessie gave
English lessons to local children. The Heads sold the lodge to the English
couple Ethel and Hugh F. Locke-King. They started building the Mena Hotel, as it
was called at the time, in 1885. It opened the following year. Objects from that
time still used today include an ancient door.
The hotel is named after the founding father of the First Egyptian Dynasty,
Mena. Known as Aha or King Menes of Memphis, he founded the city of Memphis and
unified Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom.
The Mena House is famous for its turned wood spool work, traditionally made of
beech and mahogany wood, some stemming from Harem windows. Mashrabia aka
Mashrabiya carved woodwork was introduced to Egypt during the Islamic
period, from 750 AC onwards.
The English couple Locke-King not only used Mashrabiya windows, but also brass
embossed doors, blue tiles, mother-of-pearl and mosaics of colored marbles to
build a fairy-tale palace next to the Great Pyramid. According to Andreas
Augustin, the great dining hall was an exact replica of a Cairo mosque.
In 1887, the first guests arrived by coach from Cairo, at a time when the Opera
House announced 80 performances for the following season. On December 24, 1871
Aida had premiered at the Cairo Opera House.
The Austrian Baron Ernst Rodakowski was the first general manager of the Mena
House. He was a friend of Locke-King and managed to bring it up the level of the
world's luxury hotels. However, the Locke-Kings were less successful in making
their hotel profitable, being too generous when it came to hosting friends.
Initially, the Mena House offered 80 bedrooms with 10 foot high ceilings, horse
riding, a golf course, two lawn tennis courts, a library, a billiard room, the
services of a French chef in the fashionable restaurant as well as of the
Italian photographer Fasani, who had his studio at the hotel.
The German managing director G. A. Loedlick from Frankfurt hired the English
physician Barry-Blacker and therefore, made the first step in the direction of
the creation of a fashionable spa near the pyramids. In 1890, the Mena House
opened the first hotel swimming pool in Egypt. The same year, it was the first
hotel to announce that it would stay open all year long and no longer close
during the hot summer season.
Among the 19th century travelers of world fame was the Prince of Wales, who
honored the Mena House in 1889. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, together with his wife
Louise, diagnosed with 'consumption' (today known as tuberculosis), stayed at
the luxury hotel in the winter season 1894-95. Subsequently, he revived his hero
Sherlock Holmes, whom he had 'killed' in 1894.
In 1894, Baron Rodakowski bought shares in the hotel from the couple Locke-King.
In 1896, the Mena House partly changed hands again. The hotel was bought by Emil
Weckel and a certain Mr. Schick. The hotel had its own stables with Arab and
English horses and desert carts for hire. Andreas Augustin also notes that
"fresh milk was delivered daily from the Mena House diary with
medically-examined cows." Two years later, Baron Rodakowski sold his hotel
In 1904, Schick and Weckel sold the Mena House to George Nungovich's company.
Nungovich had started as a porter at Cairo's train station. The self-made man
was to build a hotel empire in Egypt including the Angleterre, Savoy, Grand
Continental and Mena House hotels. August Wild became the company's managing
director. It was Wild who, in 1909, arranged for a banquet near the Pyramids for
the Prince and Princess of Wales, the future King George V and Queen Mary. It
took place in the chalet built for Empress Eugénie in 1869.
In 1914, the First World War brought major changes to the Mena House which was
temporarily requisitioned by the Australian troops. The management had to break
away from the 'no-pets rule' when the Australians brought in a baby kangaroo.
Towards the end of the war, the hotel became a hospital.
The First World War brought Winston Churchill to the Mena House for the first
time. He fell in love with the luxury retreat and became a lifelong regular visitor.
The Churchill Suite at the Mena House pays tribute to this story.
During the First World War, an Austrian officer was caught naked chasing a woman
through the hotel corridors. In his defense, he quoted an Austrian army
regulation which stated that an officer may wear any costume appropriate to the
sport in which he is engaged.
After the First World War, Europeans and Americans embarked again on the Grand
Tour. Therefore, in 1920, the Mena House added 30 rooms to its capacity. In
1922, Fuad became king. More important for tourism, Howard Carter discovered the
tomb of Tutankhamen.
The outbreak of World War Two in 1939 did not cripple tourism in Giza. People
were dancing on a volcano. The Mena House was fashionable with everyone in Cairo
who wanted to be seen. From time to time, King Farouk raced his red sports car
through Pyramid Road to the Mena House for a drink. When ordering a plate of his
favorite spaghetti with tomato sauce, he always spoke Italian with the head
Egyptians and the Europeans in Egypt enjoyed the gaiety while Europe and the other
parts of the world fell in ruins. The Mena House was the perfect place for
information and rumors, e.g. about Rommel conquering Libya and soon reaching
El-Alamein. The British rushed to Cairo in panic.
In 1939, the Mena House was filled with soldiers from Australia once more. In
July 1942, the British troops were pushed back to Alexandria, but in November
Field Marshall Montgomery and his Eight Army won the second battle of El Alamein
against Rommel. Montgomery has also a suite dedicated to his memory at the Mena
House. I had the chance to have a look at the suite and was impressed. The
furniture in the sitting room and a door stem from the palace of Huda Shaarawi,
the first notable feminist in Egypt. Together with historic photos of 'Monty',
the decor creates a unique atmosphere.
In November 1943, Chiang Kai-shek, Roosevelt and Churchill gathered in Egypt for
the Cairo Conference and agreed that Japan would be forced to give up China and
to surrender unconditionally. Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe had to
be discussed. The Mena House Hotel became the conference's headquarters and the
venue of all all the British and American chiefs of staff. The hotel was
protected by 500 anti-aircraft weapons. An RAF observation post was even installed on
top of the Cheops Pyramid.
In 1952, British rule and the Egyptian monarchy had become intolerable in the
eyes of the many locals. The so-called Free Officers conspired against King
Farouk and forced him into exile, fleeing on his royal yacht. His son Fouad
became king, but only for one year. In 1953, the Free Officers declared Egypt a
Republic. Gamal Abdel Nasse became president in 1956 and remained it until his
death in 1970. In this period, the hotel was nationalized.
In 1964, a fire broke out at the night club of the Mena House, which still
existed when I stayed there. But I was told that it was about to disappear in
favor of a restaurant. Nightclubbing at the Mena House does not seem to be
In 1971, the Mena House had already been nationalized for some time and was in a
poor state. Rai Bahadur Mohan Singh Oberoi (1898-2002), the founder of the Indian Oberoi hotel group,
identified it as a valuable property and in agreement with president Sadat,
took over the management, which the Oberoi Group holds until today. In 1979,
Newsweek picked Mohan Singh Oberoi as 'Businessman of the Year', together
with Sir Freddie Laker and Roland Peugeot. Incidentally, Oberoi pioneered the
employment of female staff in his Egyptian hotels. In 1985, Egypt awarded him
with the Order of the Republic for his outstanding contribution to the country's
tourist industry. The hotel group is currently run by his son, P.R.S. 'Biki' Oberoi, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of EIH Limited, the flagship
company of The Oberoi Group.
From 1972 to 1975, the Oberoi Group totally renovated the Mena House and its
Gardens with taste, preserving its unique atmosphere. In 1974, president Nixon
lunched at the hotel., which was officially reopened on Christmas Day 1975 by
Prime Minister Salem. After the renovation, a first comprehensive history of the hotel was
published by Nina Nelson.
Presidents Sadat and Carter received the pure golden keys of the Mena House from
general manager Homi J. Wadia. President Carter appreciated the gesture but had
to return the keys the next day because, at the time, American presidents were
not allowed to accept presents worth more than $50. During the Egypt-Israel
talks in 1979, Carter stayed at the Churchill Suite, Sadat in the Montgomery
Suite and the Israeli Premier Menachem Begin occupied suite 908. As we all know,
Sadat paid with his life for his historic peace initiative. People like him are
still needed in 2009, as
Israel's war against Hamas shows. In 1979 at the Mena House,
thanks to the tight security, a suitcase with a bomb was detected in time.
In 1978 a garden wing with 200 rooms was added to the historic Mena House
property. At the end of 2007 and in 2008, it underwent a complete
reconstruction. I had a look at some of the rooms. They were of the highest
standard. In 2009, the new wing called the Mena Garden will remain open, whereas
the historic Palace wing will be closed for renovation.
In 1989, the Oberoi took over the management of a coffee shop and restaurant
named in honor of the Nobel Prize winner for literature, Naguib Mahfouz,
situated in the heart of the historic Cairo bazaar Khan El Khalili.
In April 2000, 1500 of the world's leading Egyptologists held their World
Conference in Cairo. The Mena House in Giza became one of its natural centers.
The hotel also arranged a banquet at the foot of the Sphinx.
A hotel employee told me that, some two decades ago, when it was already
forbidden, a guest asked him if they could climb a pyramid together at night. Getting down
afterwards was the most terrifying experience in his life, he confessed.
Incidentally, in 1928, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Windsor teed-off from the
summit of the Great Pyramid. After playing golf, he had a swim in the Mena House
pool. Frank Sinatra, Julio Iglesias and Gloria Gaynor are three famous singers
who entertained guests at the Mena House. Pierre Balmain and Bulgari held
fashion shows in the hotel. The Shah of Persia, Reza Pahlavi, stayed at
the Mena House after Ayatollah Khomeini had driven him into exile in 1979. The
Shah had married Princess Fawzia, a daughter of Egypt's former King Fouad. The
Shah stayed four days at the Mena House and met with President Sadat. He then
retired to the privacy of Kubbeh Palace where he died from cancer in July 1980.
Among the many celebrities staying at the Mena House, let's also mention the
regular guests Omar Sharif, Sir Peter Ustinov and Charlton Heston who rode a
horse into the hotel garden every afternoon after filming the Ten
Commandments. Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker shot large parts of
Valley of the Kings at the Mena House. Roger Moore enjoyed the Mena House
during the shooting of the Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Peggy
Guggenheim, Karim Aga Khan and the Begum, Jane Fonda and Um Kalthoum, were other
actors, musicians, politicians and celebrities staying at the luxury hotel.
Last but not least,
I recommend one of the hotel's restaurants, the Moghul Room, which serves Indian
dishes in an elegant atmosphere with occasional Indian music. It
will be transferred to the current night club's location, although I was charmed by its decor, food
and music. Unfortunately, I had no chance to speak with the chef who was busy
with preparing an important event that night.
In short, you will never forget the Mena House for its culinary delights, its artistic,
relaxing and stylish decor, its sporting possibilities and its views of the
unforgettable millenary sights nearby.
By summer 2009, the renovation of Mena Garden will be completed with two new
signature restaurants, a new swimming pool, a health spa as well as some 400
rooms. The historic Palace with some 100 rooms will be closed for restoration as
of May 2009 for a period of 10 months. Hotels are works in progress.
In addition to information provided by the Mena House and the Oberoi hotel
staff, mainly Tarek Lotfy, Andreas Augustin's book The Mena House Treasury
(88 p.) was a valuable source for this article.
An Executive Suite. Photos
© The Mena House.
Hotel view from the garden with two Giza Pyramids in the background. Photo ©
The Mena House, an Oberoi hotel.
A Palace Deluxe Room with pyramids view, renovated in 2008. Photos © The
The Churchill Suite. Photos
© The Mena House.
A Deluxe Suite. Photos © The Mena House, an Oberoi hotel.
A Deluxe Room with pyramids view before the renovation. I stayed in a such a
room, but with a balcony. Photos © The Mena House.
The view from the Montgomery Terrace. Photo
© The Mena House Oberoi hotel.
View from the hotel pool.
The little hotel towers are not housing suites, but the lifts of the Mena
House. The first was added in 1900, the year in which all floors and all
public spaces received electric light. Photos copyright © The Mena House.
View of the restaurant Al Rubayyat. Photo
© The Mena House.
The Mena House's golf course near the Giza pyramids. Since 1899, hole 18 of the
hotel's golf course has been located near the Great Pyramid. The daily
irrigation in the early morning has created an oasis at the edge of the desert. Photo copyright © The Mena House, an Oberoi