Walking down Abul Feda Street in Zamalek, I always pass by the Om Kalthoum Hotel. But this time my curiosity drove me to enter the hotel, named after the famous Egyptian singer, and discover the story behind it.
Stepping inside is like moving into another era. A long corridor leads from the entrance to the reception, ornamented with elegant, wood-framed mirrors hanging on the wall to one side and a huge crystal chandelier sparkling from the ceiling.
The reception includes two Aubusson salons copied from Om Kalthoum's original furniture.
“This corner represents her villa,” says Emad Mehrez, hotel general manager, pointing to an old picture collection of Om Kalthoum sitting in different corners of her home.
The first and second floors comprise original furniture pieces that used to belong to the singer. A number of antique armchairs, small tables and amazing wood-framed mirrors are scattered at the entrance of both floors.
“We renewed the fabrics of all the chairs, as they date back to years ago. But we are keen on keeping the old, classic style, which adds a unique touch to the place,” says Dina Louise, a hotel employee.
Om Kalthoum's house was sold to an Arab investor in the mid-'70s. Then the investor tore it down and offered the land for sale. During the late '70s, the four-star hotel was partially built and officially opened its doors to guests in 1999.
The hotel also offers a large lounge full of rare black-and-white personal pictures of Om Kalthoum in special events. The pictures show her with former Egyptian presidents, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, as well as prominent musicians, including Mohamed Abdel Waheb.
“The guests love to spend time here. Listening to Om Kalthoum songs and enjoying the breathtaking Nile view is like turning back time to golden age,” says Mehrez.
Each room at the hotel is named after a song by Om Kalthoum.
“Some guests reserve a certain room out of their love for her famous songs, such as Enta Omri (You are My Life),” says Mehrez.
Though Arabs, known for their appreciation of Om Kalthoum's voice, represent the majority of the guests, Mehrez says that foreigners also like the hotel’s atmosphere and ideal location.
At the end of Abul Feda Street near Sequoia Restaurant stands a huge, old school building called Al-Kawmia Al-Namosageya for Boys.
The school, where most Zamalek residents used to send their children, was widely known for its upper-class students.
During the '50s, Mohamed Tawfik al-Sayed was the school principal. He later held office as governor of Fayoum in the early 2000s.
In 1961, the school was converted into the Higher Institute of Financial and Commercial Sciences. Fourteen years later it became Helwan University's Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration. Then, the faculty was moved to Ain Helwan, leaving the aging building empty until today.
Once a quiet residential street, Abul Feda Street is now lined with number of coffee shops and chic restaurants that have recently opened on both sides of the street.
While most of them belong to well-known international chains including Cilantro, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and Coffeeshop Company, others of Arab origin such as the Lebanese Abdel Waheb Restaurant are available as well.