The historic Cairo hotel where Egypt declared its independence from the British in 1922 is slated for demolition, making way for a 1 billion Egyptian pound ($52.6 million) development.
Located centrally in Cairo's bustling Opera Square, the Grand Continental Hotel was built in the 1860s. Egypt's King Farouk was a frequent visitor to the hotel as he enjoyed the view from the terrace. Thomas Edward Lawrence (AKA Lawrence of Arabia) also stayed at the hotel in 1914.
Considered a gem of 19th century architecture, the hotel is situated in an area known as Kedival Cairo. The name refers to Khedive Esmail, who ruled for 16 years starting in 1863 and wanted to transform the city too look like Europe.
Despite its unique historic value and its central location, the hotel fell into decline over the years, going out of business in the early 1990s. The Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels, which currently owns the hotel, called for the demolition calling the building "dilapidated."
It's a "threatening humanitarian disaster until we demolish it," Mamduh Rutab, the company’s deputy chairman told Gulf News.
The hotel has survived several disasters over the years. It was damaged in a massive fired that tore through Egypt's central district in 1952. But after renovations, it reopened. Later, in 1992 it was damaged in an earthquake and has remained in decrepit condition ever since, leading the first floor ceiling to collapse last year.
Still, government officials say the hotels facade will be preserved.
Mohammad Abu Seda, who heads a governmental urban landscaping agency, explained that while the law allows for such historic building to be torn down, developers must retain the facades "to preserve architectural harmony." He explained that the decision regarding the Continental Hotel was specifically taken due the structures unsafe condition.
Development plans, projected to take three years, call for a new 250-room hotel and a glitzy shopping mall.
Some activists have expressed dismay at the demolition, no matter that the facade will remain intact.
"The Continental is part of the heart of historic Cairo and must be preserved," Zahi Hawass, a leading Egyptian archaeologist said in a TV interview.
Online, many have called the demolition a "crime against history." Some have criticized the government for allowing the historic hotel to fall into such disrepair, saying other governments would not have done the same.