Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor

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Discover the Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor, which was once the favorite holiday destination of George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon.

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Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor, a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide 2014, dates back to 1886.

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A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide since 2014, the Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor is situated on the Nile River amid luxuriant tropical gardens and ancient temples. British explorers originally built this magnificent historic hotel toward the end of the 19th century, blending rich colonial designs with the glory of ancient Egypt. Nevertheless, the palace became a wonderful retreat after two Cairo-based hoteliers, Charles Baehler and George Nungovich, acquired the site in 1905. In collaboration with a well-known travel agent named Thomas Cook, Baehler and Nungovich began completely renovating the structure via their Upper Egypt Hotel Company. (Thomas Cook was responsible for constructing the nearby Old Cataract Hotel, which is also a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide.) The pair hired architect Leon Stienon to spearhead the design, while the Italian construction company G.GAROZZO & Figli Costruzioni provided labor and materials. Taking two years to finish, Stienon and G.GAROZZO & Figli Costruzioni transformed the erstwhile palace into one of Egypt’s most prestigious holiday destinations.

Baehler and Nungovich triumphantly debuted their new business as the “Winter Palace Hotel” in 1907 to great acclaim. They subsequently organized a spectacular series of celebrations for its inauguration, which featured a picnic at the Valley of the Kings, followed by a grand gala later that evening. Word of the Winter Palace’s well-appointed accommodations quickly spread throughout Europe and the Middle East, attracting all sorts of guests from many different walks of life. Among the first travelers to ever set foot inside the hotel was George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Lord Carnarvon came to adore the Winter Palace Hotel, often calling it as his second home. Perhaps the most memorable time Lord Carnarvon spent at the location was when he and his fellow colleague, Howard Carter, uncovered Tutankhamen’s Tomb in 1922. In fact, the two men used the hotel as the place where they informed the rest of the world about their discovery. But the Winter Palace Hotel played host to many other illustrious guests throughout its history, including Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, and King Albert I of Belgium. Even the entire Egyptian royal family embraced the Winter Palace Hotel as their annual summer retreat!

The Winter Palace remained a fixture in Luxor well into the late 20th century, prompting its staff to expand upon its available facilities frequently. In 1975, several hoteliers commissioned the construction of the “New Winter Palace,” which complimented the available number of accommodations on-site. It quickly developed a reputation as a three-star hotel, becoming nearly as formidable as its historic companion. (Despite its initial popularity, though, the building was eventually demolished five decades later.) Then during the 1990s, Architects constructed “The Pavilon,” a four-star annex in the rear garden of the Winter Palace that featured 116 new guestrooms. The Pavilon shared many amenities with the rest of the hotel complex, including its gardens, pools, tennis courts, and restaurants. Today, the Winter Palace Hotel is owned by the Egyptian General Company for Tourism & Hotels of Egypt, which operates the business through a prosperous partnership with AccorHotels. Now known as the “Sofitel Winter Palace Luxor,” this magnificent historic hotel continues to entertain countless guests from across the world.

  • About the Location +

    Located along the banks of the Nile River, the ancient city of Luxor is defined by years of ancient history. Although it was originally founded centuries ago as “Wasat,” the metropolis was better known as “Thebes” in antiquity. Thebes’ emergence as a major city within ancient Egyptian society occurred during the Era of the Middle Kingdom (2055 – 1650 BC), in which a local prince, Montuhotep II, managed to unite the disparate petty kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. Having devoted his entire life to the conquest, Montuhotep elevated Thebes to serve as his capital and erected numerous monuments to chronicle his triumphs. Perhaps the greatest memorial that Montuhotep constructed in his own honor was a massive mortuary temple called “Deir al-Bahari.” But the Theban king also transformed the city into the religious center for his sprawling empire, establishing numerous temples and shrines across the landscape. In fact, Thebes’ spiritual importance had become so significant that the subjects of the Middle Kingdom often referred to the settlement as “The City of 100 Gates” in order to distinguish it from another influential religious center, Heliopolis. The god Amun was central to the sacred rituals of ancient Thebes, too, with most of the temples dedicated to his worship. Over time, the grand edifices raised in Amun’s honor became more intricate, especially once the Egyptian monarchs connected their familial origins to the deity himself.

    Thebes retained its religious influence for generations, even after Montuhotep’s ancestors moved the royal court further north. Due to the new influx of foreign trade into the Middle Kingdom, his successors often had a wealth of funds to facilitate the continued development of religious sites across the city. Among the greatest construction projects pursued in the era was the creation of Karnak, a massive temple complex devoted to the sanctification of Amun. While only ruins today, Karnark was once filled with dozens of active chapels, columns, and obelisks that nearly filled an entire square mile. But Thebes reached the zenith of its prestige during the period of the New Kingdom (1550 – 1069 BC), when its founder, Ahmose I, reunified Egypt under the rule of the 18th Dynasty. Starting with Ahmose I, Thebes experienced a prolonged construction boom that lasted for centuries. He initiated specific projects that resulted in the creation of the beautiful Malqata palace, as well as the transformation of the Karnak complex. Thebes’ population quadrupled in size as such, with the city becoming the home for tens of thousands of people in just a few decades. Ahmose I’s successors continued his work, including legendary pharaohs like Amenhotep III, Ramesses II, Tutankhamun I, and Queen Hatshepsut. Some of the most iconic structures in Luxor today were constructed at the time, such the ornate series of shrines known as the “Luxor Temple.”

    New religious functions quickly manifested in Thebes as a result of its newfound royal prestige. One of the most extravagant ceremonies to appear during the New Kingdom was the Opet. Held at the temples of Luxor and Karnak, priests would carry statues of Amun and his divine family into a massive party populated by all kinds of revelers. But the burial of the dead was incredibly important, as well, particularly for the successive generations of the ancient Egyptian royal family. Many pharaohs from the New Kingdom began developing a series of intricate tombs throughout a valley opposite of downtown Thebes, reforging its identity as the famous “Valley of the Kings.” In all, some 63 different crypts have been discovered at the present, with more excavated seemingly every decade. (This is the place where Howard Carter and George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb.) Furthermore, princes, princesses, and other important members of the 18th Dynasty were interred in a neighboring system of impressive mausoleums called the “Valley of the Queens.” Responsible for the construction of such massive crypts was left to a vibrant community of laborers, tradesmen, and civic officials, who inhabited a special town at the center of the two valleys called “Deir el-Medina.” Even though the workers managed to build some awe-inspiring structures, they often came into conflict with the pharaohs over their lack of freedom. They openly rebelled on occasion, and one ruler, Ramesses III, even endured what some believe to be the first labor strike in history.

    The power of the New Kingdom eventually began to wane during the 12th century BC, with its eventual collapse transpiring due to internal political strife and constant warfare. Thebes slipped further into political insignificance once the Assyrians sacked the city five centuries later. As such, the power in Egypt shifted away onto other destinations, including Bubastis, Sais, and Alexandria. Nevertheless, the grand temples and monuments constructed by the Egyptian pharaohs endured for many years thereafter, capturing the imaginations of countless civilizations. Among the powerful empires that either visited or controlled Thebes in the centuries that followed included the Greeks, the Persians, and the Romans. Even Alexander the Great was among the first international travelers to visit the city and see its spectacular historical structures. The world has since retained its fascination with the history of the city, as well as the many archeological sites scattered about. Hundreds of visitors travel to the Luxor every year to marvel at the various temples and monuments. In fact, Luxor is actually considered to be the largest open-air museum on the planet, due to the sheer number of historical structures that continue to stand within its borders today. So many structures still exist within the city that the United Nations have even declared portions of Luxor to be a part of a huge UNESCO World Heritage Site.


  • About the Architecture +

    When architect Leon Stienon first began renovating the Winter Palace on behalf of Charles Baehler and George Nungovich, he used Edwardian-inspired architectural motifs to design its exterior. When King Edward VII assumed the throne upon the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, it marked the beginning of a momentous—albeit brief—period of dynamic cultural expression for English society. Historians today refer to his reign as the Edwardian Era, which lasted from 1901 right up to the outbreak of World War I. Among the advances in art that defined the age was the wholesale embrace of new architectural forms. Architects and engineers from the United Kingdom were eager to utilize different design philosophies of the artistic tastes that characterized the previous century. Looking back to the Enlightenment, those building professionals started borrowing the structural aesthetics of Neoclassicism and Georgian architecture once again, infusing it with their preexisting concepts of Victorian architecture. As such, most buildings constructed throughout the Edwardian Era featured recognizable structural elements like frames of half-timbered exteriors that were typically filled with some form of brick or plaster. Sometimes, though, architects would fill the frame with a mixture known as “pebbledash,” which consisted of lime, sand and stone. The layout of the wood was so pronounced in a few cases that it made the structures resemble something developed at the time of the Tudors. Paneled doors outfitted with ornate stained glass were also commonplace, as was the presence of painstakingly carved wooden porches. Popular in the 18th century, the multipaned sash window became widespread once more, which allowed for natural light to flood a building’s many open spaces. Bay windows—another holdover from the Georgian Era—would have been used frequently, too.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb (1922): George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, had made Egypt his second home following an automobile accident that left him in poor health. Finding the arid Egyptian winters conducive to his declining physique, he began to spend long periods of time in Egypt. While Lord Carnarvon traveled around the country frequently, he stayed the most often at Luxor’s Winter Palace Hotel. The Valley of the Kings had captivated his imagination, inspiring the Earl to pursue archeology as a hobby. Unfortunately, Herbert’s ailing body and his lack of archeological training prevented him from digging up anything significant. To help him in his intellectual endeavors, Lord Carnarvon subsequently hired the ambitious Howard Carter. A British transplant like Herbert, Carter had moved to Egypt in the 1890s to study the history of ancient Egypt. He began his career at the age of 17, first serving as a field assistant before working his way up to the title of “Inspector-General of Monuments in Upper Egypt.” In 1905, Carter fatefully resigned from his post in order to help Lord Carnarvon in his quest to work in the Valley of the Kings.

    For years, Howard Carter and his benefactor, Lord Carnarvon, searched through the region for any sign of an unexplored crypt. Over time, though, evidence began to emerge suggesting that the illusive tomb of King Tutankhamun still laid untouched somewhere in the valley. An ancient Egyptian pharaoh who ruled at the height of the historic New Kingdom, many believed that Tutankhamun’s mausoleum had been lost to time centuries ago. Encouraged, the men sifted through the sand for any sign of the tomb. But after years of endless tunneling, the task began to look hopeless. The situation grew even more dire when the outbreak of World War I threatened to permanently stop their project altogether. Both Carter and Herbert were about ready to end their journey by 1922, deciding for one final excavation near the well-known tomb of Ramses VI. Working around the base of the vault, Carter and his fellow field hands found a peculiar cavern beneath the rock. Astounded, Carter instructed the crew to begin excavating around the cave. When dawn broke on the next morning—November 5—the team located a mysterious staircase that led to a sealed door bearing the inscription “Tutankhamun.”

    The elated Carter immediately told Lord Carnarvon and the two worked furiously to enter the tomb’s interior. Clearing the passageway, the men walked through the entrance hallway before stumbling upon the heart of Tutankhamun’s resting place. First encountering the Antechamber, Carter, Herbert, and their team ultimately uncovered a treasure trove of several thousand artifacts. Over the next few months, Carter and Herbert continued to explore the four-room crypt, being careful to remove whatever they found for preservation. (All of the objects currently reside at the Cairo Museum.) Finally in February of 1923, the men reached the final room, which was Tutankhamun’s actual burial chamber. Inside, they found the mummified remains of Tutankhamun within an ornate golden sarcophagus. All the while, the two men told the world of their amazing discoveries from the Winter Palace Hotel. At the height of the excavations, an international press corps had booked many of the hotel’s guestrooms, just so they could regularly receive up-to-date information. Carter even took to using the on-site noticeboard as his official news ticker. Thanks in large part to the work of Carter and Herbert, scholars today now know much about the culture of ancient Egyptian society.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

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

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

    George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and one of Howard patrons amid his exploration of the Valley of the Kings.

    Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France (1906 – 1909; 1917 – 1920)

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

    Aga Kahn III, 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili and President of the Assembly of the League of Nations.

    Eugénie de Montijo, Empress of France (1853 – 1870)

    King Farouk I of Egypt (1936 – 1952)

    King Albert I of Belgium (1909 – 1934)

    Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen of the Belgians (1909 – 1934)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Death on the Nile (2004)


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