Holiday and Hotels
KING TUT AND THE WINTER PALACE HOTEL LATEST DELIVERY
At 4 p.m. on November 26, 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter raised an iron bar and rammed it through a stone wall, creating a small hole in an underground chamber that had been closed for 3,300 years.
Beside him sat his friend and patron George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon.
They had spent 10 years together in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt, moving sand, moving boulders, excavating excavations, studying maps and studying documents, all in the hopes of finding the tomb of an ancient pharaoh.
They have had small successes, but not enough to keep going. This was their last expedition.
When Lord Carnarvon’s health and money ran out, it had come to this. What if this new room was empty? Well, that would be the end.
With hands trembling with excitement, Carter lit the candle and pushed it through the hole.
The sight left him speechless. Lord Carnarvon couldn’t take the tension any longer and snapped, “See something?”
“Yes,” Carter said. “Fun stuff”.
They had just discovered the greatest archaeological treasure in history: the nearly intact tomb of King Tutankhamen.
THE NEXT 4 YEARS
Over the next four years, Carter painstakingly removed about 4,000 incredibly beautiful objects from the tomb.
Alabaster vessels, baskets, sculptures, headdresses and daggers of solid gold, games, weapons, model ships, jewelry, chariots, a sarcophagus (coffin) of 243 pounds of solid gold, and the most precious of all Egyptian artifacts: the mask of Tutankhamen, a massive gold morgue. He himself.
What did our two British explorers do with all this excitement after discovering the most precious treasure in history?
Like true Britons, Carter and Lord Carnarvon went for tea at the nearby luxurious Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor.
And so can you.
Today it is possible to descend the same 16 steps that lead to Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, just as Carter and Lord Carnarvon did on that fateful day.
Then follow in their footsteps and enjoy afternoon tea on the banks of the Nile in one of Egypt’s most historic and famous hotels.
Built in 1886, the Winter Palace hasn’t changed much since the day Carter told the world about his discovery by posting a notice on the hotel’s bulletin board.
The hotel became the press center for the discovery, which became a global sensation and sparked what Americans dubbed “Tut-mania.”
“The idea of buried treasure appeals to most of us,” Carter wrote.
From Hollywood’s grandest movie palaces to New York’s famous Chrysler Building, architects have been fascinated by Egyptian art and incorporated it into their Art Deco designs, while stars have worn jet-black makeup under their eyes to mimic the look of Egyptian women depicted in 3,300-year-old drawings.
SOFITEL WINTER PALACE LUXOR
The center of “Tut-mania” and the headquarters of the international press that followed the story was the Winter Palace Hotel.
Standing in the atrium these days, it’s easy to imagine men in white suits and hats and women in long 1920s dresses standing on the same tiled floor, eager to learn about the tomb’s newest treasure.
The hotel is a classic piece of Edwardian England, as if Downton Abbey had been lifted and placed in the desert. It couldn’t be more fitting.
Lord Carnarvon’s home in England was Highclere Castle, a magnificent Jacobean mansion later portrayed as the fictional Downtown Abbey.
The exterior entrance to the hotel is a curved marble staircase covered with a red carpet. Entered through the revolving wooden door, the lobby is cool from the hot Egyptian sun, and beyond is a grand staircase flanked by a curved iron railing.
Dazzling chandeliers hang in a three-story atrium. There are overstuffed chairs, palm trees in copper planters, paintings of famous Egyptians, and an unusual wooden and copper shoeshine chair that stands in the center of the room. The hotel staff will welcome you with cold karkada, refreshing hibiscus tea.
King Farouk of Egypt, the last king of Egypt, was a frequent guest at the hotel, which also hosted Winston Churchill, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Jaqueline Kennedy, Tony Blair, Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
The lobby opens up to the hotel’s flagship: the 40,000 square meter garden. Filled with 50 different tree species, the garden offers peaceful paths lined with pink bougainvillea that wind between fountains and small squares.
Bananas, limes, oranges and other fruit trees add fragrance to the air. Keep an eye out for the Hod Hod birds that still roam the gardens. The long-beaked birds are depicted in 3,500-year-old drawings at the nearby Luxor Temple.
The gardens originally grew fruit and vegetables for hotel guests, but today there is a swimming pool, open-air bar and quiet corners to sit and relax. Agatha Christie stayed at the hotel and enjoyed long walks in the garden.
On the balcony of a hotel overlooking the Nile, she wrote her classic crime novel Death on the Nile. Noel Coward, Jane Fonda, Richard Gere and John Malkovich are among the many celebrities who have stayed here and strolled through these gardens.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping recently visited Egypt on a trade trip in January 2016, he was received and met by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Winter Palace.
Afternoon tea at the Victoria Lounge is special. After the heat of the day, this luxurious room is cool and dark, with a crystal chandelier, pink oriental carpets, and historic paintings of scenes along the Nile.
King Farouk loved the afternoon tea ritual and often enjoyed macaroons, scones, crab and prawn sandwiches and other delicacies in this room.
Another highlight is the Nile Terrace, the hotel’s huge outdoor balcony overlooking the Nile.
At sunset you can enjoy a tea or cocktail here as the traditional wooden sailing boat feluccas glide up and down the river, their signature flat triangular sails catching the last of the day’s light.
There are dozens of horse-drawn carriages in Luxor, and the familiar click of passing horses only adds to the hotel’s timeless quality.
And of course, no stay is complete without a cocktail or a Pimm’s in the Royal Bar. The library-themed red room is lined with books and has a comfortable table and chair for a quiet pre-dinner drink.
THE CURSE OF THE PHARAOHS
Unfortunately, finding King Tut’s grave was the pinnacle of Carter and Lord Carnarvon. Within six months, Carnarvon was accidentally cut by a mosquito bite while shaving.
The surgical site became infected and his weakened body developed pneumonia. Although he was rushed to Cairo, he soon died. Journalists launched a rumor that his death was the curse of the pharaohs – revenge of the ancient kings for entering their tombs.
All electricity was said to have gone out in Cairo when Lord Carnarvon died. Others who tried to discover the tomb are also believed to have died under unusual circumstances.
Obviously the story had no facts, but Hollywood loved it and they still make movies about the mummy’s curse.
Carter didn’t do well either. Lui regularly quarreled with the Egyptian government and was removed from the site, but later returned to spend his last years cataloging the objects in the tomb.
His nearby home in the Valley of the Kings is now a museum dedicated to his achievements.