Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan

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Discover the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, which originally debuted as the Old Cataract Hotel back toward the end of the 19th century.

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Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2014, dates back to 1899.

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When the first iteration of the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan emerged toward the end of the 19th century, it was meant to be a luxurious vacation retreat for wealthy travelers interested in exploring the Nile Delta. Tour guide Thomas Cook specifically decided to erect a magnificent hotel in the vicinity of Aswan as a means of accommodating the European travelers who frequented the local cruise ships. Selecting a bluff that overlooked the historic Elephantine Island, Cook oversaw the construction of a brilliant Victorian-style complex that resembled a grand palace. After months of continuous construction work, Cook finally debuted his spectacular retreat as the “Old Cataract Hotel.” Its state-of-the-art amenities and luxurious accommodations made the building an immediate sensation, prompting Cook to enlarge it exponentially. In fact, Cook had to create a tent city around the Old Cataract Hotel just to handle the overflow. Word of the Old Cataract Hotel’s magnificent accommodations soon spread throughout Europe, attracting all kinds of illustrious guests. Among the first to visit was future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who reserved a guestroom while attending the inauguration of the nearby Aswan Low Dam. Churchill enjoyed his time at the hotel so much that he continuously returned on vacation throughout the rest of his life.

Many other illustrious individuals visited the Old Cataract Hotel, too, including the renowned archeologist Howard Carter and Agatha Christie. Carter himself had sojourned over to the building to celebrate his discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb during the early 1920s. Agatha Christie subsequently spent her time at the hotel to pen her famous novel, Death on the Nile, a decade later. Christie has even used the facility and its surrounding environment as the inspiration for the book’s setting! The popularity with the Old Cataract Hotel remained strong well into the middle of the 20th century, incentivizing ownership to expand the building yet again. It even oversaw the addition of a massive, nine-story section called the “Nile Wing” as a means of addressing the heightened demand. Dozens of new illustrious guests frequented the revitalized Old Cataract Hotel, including U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who stayed on-site while he negotiated the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Several years later, the hotel hosted the entire cast of the film adaptation of Death of the Nile, which included Peter Ustinov, David Niven, Mia Farrow, and Angela Lansbury. Director John Guillermin even shot a few scenes inside different parts of the hotel, such as its brilliant Moorish-themed ballroom.

In recent years, AccorHotels—acting as the manager—began its own extensive renovation of the Old Cataract Hotel, which by this point was known as the “Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan.” Taking some three years to complete, the work streamlined various wings. A majority of the renovation actually saw the historic Cataract wing combined with the tower to form one unique hotel structure. Now fully restored the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan still rates as one of Egypt’s most outstanding holiday destinations. This spectacular historic hotel currently offers 138 guestroom and suites spread across two brilliant areas. Today, the New Cataract Wing is known as the “Nile Wing,” while the hotel’s more historic portion is celebrated as the “Palace Wing.” Many of their fantastic accommodations still provide the best in modern comfort and offer spectacular views of the Nile River. A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2014, few places in the Mediterranean basin are better for a heritage-inspired vacation than the historic Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan.

  • About the Location +

    Aswan is one of Egypt’s most bustling metropolises, as it is currently home a population of some 1.5 million people. It has long been a source of great culture and entertainment, serving as the site of a bustling market and an incredibly active tourist center. But Aswan is also heavily influenced by its rich history, which harkens back millennia. The city first came into existence centuries ago during the reign of the pharaohs, when the ancient Egyptians constructed a small community called “Swenett” upon a nearby peninsula. The origins of its original name are still somewhat unknown, but scholars today believe it was related to the Egyptian goddess of childbirth and fertility. Hieroglyphs found in ruins surrounding modern Aswan seem support this belief, although others attribute the moniker to the city’s historical role as a market town. Nevertheless, Swenett was often regarded by the ancient Egyptians as the gateway into Egypt, for many considered the Nile River to begin at Swenett. Merchants from across the region always initiated trade in Swenett first before traveling further into the kingdom to places like Memphis and Thebes. All kinds of exotic goods proliferated throughout Swenett, as such, which ranged from rare gems to ostrich feathers. But the people of Swenett found work at the stone quarries that surrounded the city, too, which were used to mine a precious stone called “syenite.” Syenite was ubiquitous in ancient Egypt, as architects relied upon the stone to develop diverse sets of statues, shrines, and obelisks. In fact, syenite constituted the building material for quite a few monolithic structures in Swenett, including the great unfinished obelisk that now resides at the heart of contemporary Aswan.

    Over time, Swenett became an important military asset to the ancient Egyptians. Its proximity at the head of the Upper Nile River afforded the pharaohs the ability to easily marshal their troops for campaigns against the rival Nubians further south. Every single Egyptian dynasty made sure to fully garrison the settlement, as well, regardless of whether the kingdom was actively at war. To continuously fund the barracks, local administrators started to levy tolls and other fees on the commercial vessels that would enter into Swenett’s ports. Recognizing the significance of Swenett’s river ports, Merenra I of the sixth dynasty even ordered the construction of a channel nearby to increase the amount of ships that could pass through at any given time. The channel proved so integral that many other pharaohs—including Senusret III and Thutmose III—continuously renovated the site. Swenett’s military significance endured for generations, even after the Romans incorporated Egypt into their empire in the 1st century BC. One of the main reasons why travelers in the present enjoy visiting modern Aswan so much is that many of its historic structures from antiquity survive today. Most of Aswan is even protected by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For instance, some of the best Egyptian temple complexes are located in Aswan, such as the Temple of Satet and the Temple of Khnoum. Visitors also enjoy exploring the Nubian Museum and its array of ancient artifacts, as well as the outstanding Elephante Island Pyramid.

    While not as historic as the ancient Egyptian structures that call Aswan home, the city is also the location for the incredibly impressive Aswan Dam. Constructed throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Aswan Dam is currently the world’s largest embankment dam. Its subsequent construction highlighted the national government’s attempt to industrialize the nation following the successful Egyptian Revolution of the mid-20th century. The new dam was actually built above an older one founded in the early 1900s—the Aswan Low Dam. Like the construct before it, the newer dam sought to regulate the annual flooding that heavily saturated the region in late summer. The floods carried all kinds of nutrients further down into the Nile Delta, making the land near the river very fertile. But the flooding varied every year, resulting in infrequent periods of droughts and deluges. To better administer the seasonal flood patterns, the Egyptian government hired the Russian firm Hydroproject Institute to build an even larger embankment dam that could aid in the job of controlling the Nile River. Thankfully, the plan worked perfectly and the new Aswan Dam immediately made it easier for officials to regulate its currents. Its large reservoir was also a boon for many local farmers, who could rely on its supply of fresh water when drier weather lasted longer than expected. To this day, the Aswan Dam remains one of the area’s greatest landmarks due to both its size and cultural impact on Egypt as a whole.


  • About the Architecture +

    One of the greatest architectural features of the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Aswan is the beautiful Moorish-style architecture that resides throughout the interior. Also referred to as “Neo-Moorish,” Moorish Revival was one of the Revivalist architectural forms from the 19th century that sought to preserve earlier examples of historical architecture. Moorish Revival architecture was one of the first Revivalist styles to ever appear, emerging throughout western and central Europe in the early 1800s. Moorish Revival-style remained prevalent among Europeans at the turn of the century, before disappearing somewhat during the Great Depression. While most Revival styles born in the Victorian Era typically copied earlier Western design aesthetics, Moorish architecture largely borrowed its elements from the Moors of North Africa. Muslims of Berber origin, the Moors had conquered almost all of the Iberian Peninsula by the dawn of the Early Middle Ages. While their civilization was largely driven out of the region by the 15th century, many aspects of their culture endured for generations thereafter. Perhaps one of the Moors greatest legacies in Spain and Portugal were their grand architectural designs. Influenced tremendously by Islamic design principles further west in the Middle East, the Moors created brilliant edifices that embraced the concepts of rhythmic linear patterns, vegetative design, and elaborate geometric shapes. A combination of wood, stucco, and tiling—most notably “zellij”—constituted the buildings materials, although contemporary architects added more modern resources when attempting to emulate the design in the 1800s. One of the greatest components to Moorish buildings involved the “horseshoe arch,” which consisted of a perfect curve that bulged outward from the base. Furthermore, the Moors also decorated their structures with onion-shaped domes that were generally topped with a pointed spire.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Yom Kippur War (1973): For three weeks in October 1973, a coalition led by Egypt and Syria waged war against their neighbor Israel. Bitter tensions between the two sides had long been simmering since Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights after the Six Days War. Egypt specifically wanted to capture the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, hoping to use it as a negotiating tool to ultimately win back control over the Sinai. At the same time, the Syrians would assault the neighboring Golan Heights, thus, organizing a two-front war. Launching their initial attack on Yom Kippur, the Israeli Defense Force managed to halt the dual invasions after three days before launching their own counteroffensive a week later. By the middle of the month, the Israeli army had made sizeable gains in both Syria and Egypt. Meanwhile, the conflict quickly lost its regional character, when the Israel and the Arab coalition received military support from the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively. America and Russia even came close to fighting themselves, with their navies wearily watching each other offshore in the Mediterranean.

    Fearing the outbreak of another global war, the members of the United Nations Security Council—specifically the United States and the Soviet Union—managed to broker a peace deal that sought to end the hostilities. In fact, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger led the negotiations for America, who stayed at the Old Cataract Hotel throughout the meetings. Despite some temporary setbacks (including a brief resumption of fighting), the two sides finally agreed to a ceasefire on October 25. Despite the brief timespan of the war, it had far-reaching consequences for the future of Middle Eastern politics. The fighting evenutally incentivized the leaders of both Israel and Egypt to settle their nation’s longstanding differences. In 1978, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat met with President Jimmy Carter to discuss the grievances their nation’s held toward one another. Meeting for six days at Camp David, the two ultimately agreed to a couple of resolutions that resolved territorial disputes that Israel and Egypt had entertained since start of the Cold War. Known as the “Camp David Accords,” the peace treaty won both Begin and Sadat the Nobel Peace Prize later that year.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Peter Ustinov, actor best remembered for his roles in such films like Spartacus, Death on the Nile, and Qua Vadis.

    Bette Davis, actress known for her roles in All About Eve, Jezebel, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

    David Niven, actor known for his roles in such films like Separate Tables, The Pink Panther, and Around the World in 80 Days.

    Mia Farrow, actress known for her roles in movies like The Purple Rose of Cairo, Rosemary’s Baby, and John and Mary.

    Angela Lansbury, actress known for her roles in movies like The Manchurian Candidate, Gaslight, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

    Howard Carter, archeologist who discovered the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun.

    Agatha Christie, author remembered for such works like And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, and Murder on the Orient Express.

    Diana, Princess of Wales

    Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (1894 – 1917)

    Henry Kissinger, 56th U.S. Secretary of State (1973 – 1977) 

    Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940 – 1945; 1951 – 1955)

    Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1979 – 1990)

    Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States (1978 – 1981)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Death on the Nile (1978)

    Gran Hotel (2016)


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