The Montazah Gardens and Palaces
The Montaza Complex is located at the Eastern edge of the city of Alexandria on the north coast of Egypt. The complex, which size ranges around 360 acre, overseas a gulf that was called Al Montaza Gulf.
The complex contains five beaches for swimming: Aida, Cleopatra, Vanessa, Semiramis, and the private beach of Helnan Palestine Hotel.
All sorts of sea activity can be done in Montaza. One can ride a sea boat and take a ride around the complex or you can go waterskiing as well, diving, snorkeling, or even just chill out in front of the sea.
The history of the complex
In the year 1892, Abbas Helmy II, the last Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, used to like riding horses and donkeys on the shores and in the neighborhoods of Alexandria with some of his friends like Ahmed Shafiq Pasha. They used to start their rides from Sidi Bisher, a neighborhood in the west of the city of Alexandria today and then they move to different places of the jewel of the Mediterranean.
In one summer night, Helmy ordered his men to prepare 80 donkeys for his ride in
Alexandria. This is besides the Khedive Music band that consisted of 48 music players and their instruments. When they reached Sidi Bisher, a group of Bedouins heard the music and when they knew that the Khedive is among the ride they came and greeted him and followed him around.
The Khedive Helmy II loved an area near Sidi Bisher because of the scenes of the sea there and because of the quite and fascinating atmosphere of this location. He even went again to view this area more clearly and he went to a specific spot that is located between two eminences and has a small island to its North, and from this moment Helmy decided to have this spot as his summer residence and decided to build a palace and some gardens there.
On the top of one of these eminences, there were old canons that go back to the reign of Mohamed Ali who put them there to protect the North Coast of Egypt and the city of Alexandria. These canons are still at the same spot till today and Helmy built the Salamlek Palace in front of it.
The other eminence's top contained a center for coast guards and the Khedive bought it form the government and built the Haramlek Palace there.
Helmy II also bought the house of Sinadino, a rich Alexandrian tradesman and added the land to his complex and he bought a lot of lands from people living in the area to expand the space of his summer resort. The Khedive followed the construction of the two palaces himself and he named the whole complex, the Montazah, or the garden, a name that was suggested to him by Mahmoud Shokry Pasha, the head of the Turkish Divan in Egypt.
After the death of Abbas Helmy II, the royal family continued taking care of the Montazah complex until the reign of the last king of Egypt, Farouk I. then, the Egyptian revolution of 1952 took place and the Palace was owned by the government which opened the gardens for public and the Salamlek Palace was transformed into a museum until it was added to the presidential palaces which serve as a hosting place for the president's visitors.
The gardens of the Montazah
The garden of Al Montazah which is 3000 meters wide contains a huge selection of trees and plants and some of them are quite rare. Some of the tropical plants are still in good shape although they have been planted more than 75 years ago. The plant collection in Montazah includes: Catania, huge boots, Zamia, Carlota, and special types of palms. This is besides the big size plants like Anthurium, Hokiry, Araliaceae, Victoria, and Ropilia.
The Helnan Palestine Hotel
This is the only hotel which was built inside one of the royal palaces that its ownership was transformed to the government after the Egyptian revolution in 1952. It stands just in front of the modern light house of Al Montazah.
The hotel was built due to the orders of the former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to host the first Arab Summit which was attended by all the Arab president and kings of the time. Afterwards, the hotel became the residence of most of the kings, queens, presidents, and important figures who visit Egypt. The hotel even hosted the visitors of Egypt at the event of the grand opening of the new Library of Alexandria. The list included, the French president jack Shirak, Sofia the Queen of Spain, and the Queen Rania the wife of the king of Jordon. The hotel is the most favorite summer spot for some of Egypt's artists and authors as well.
The hotel contains 233 rooms and all of them have sea or garden views. It also has 20 suites, two royal suites, and a villa which takes the whole space of the sixth floor of the hotel and it is suitable for large families and groups. The villa contains 6 rooms, special private kitchen, and a big reception hall.
The Helnan Palestine Hotel is famous for its various restaurants. The "Estacoza Restaurant', located directly on the sea, offers delicious fresh seafood dishes that like "the sea food platter". There is also the "Alexandrina restaurant' that serves international dishes and has an open buffet dinner all days of the week. There are Asian and Italian restaurants for specialized dishes. The "Zodiac Restaurant" offers soft and hot drinks, yummy ice creams and desert.
The Salamlek Palace and Hotel
The Salamlek hotel provides its visitors with the luxurious style of the life of kings and queens. The hotel was originally built by Abbas Helmy II as the hunting lounge for him and his Austrian girlfriend who became his wife afterwards and changed her name to be Gawidan Hanem.
The name Haramlek in the Turkish language means: the place where men meet, Haramlek is the opposite of Salamlek, the place where women stay. In the reign of King Farouk, the palace was used as his special office and meeting hall.
The Palace was designed by Dmitri Fabersious, one of the most famous architects at the time. It was designed using a lot of rich decorations and it contained an artificial forest at the time and it was full of animals that the Khedive and his companions used to go and hunt.
The garden of the Palace has Italian canons that King Ahmed Fouad brought from Europe to defend the Palace against any attack that might come from the sea.
The palace was used a military hospital in the World War I where British soldiers used to be transferred there to receive treatment. After the revolution in 1952, the Haramlek Palace was transformed into a hotel and it was managed by Sphinx Tourism Company. The San Giovanni Company came afterwards and made a lot of restorations and renovations to the hotel.
When you first enter the main hall of the hotel you find yourself in the Khedive Salon with its luxurious furniture and it contains a collection of photographs of the Khedive with different important figures. You will definitely spend some time at the reception to be able to choose the best suite as the hotel has 14 special suites: "Mawlana Al Moheeb" Suite that contains 5 wide rooms and a special royal garden view, "Sahebat Al Essma" with its huge three rooms and wide balcony, " Dawlat Al Ra'ees" with two rooms and a wide balcony, or "Afandina" with three rooms and a big balcony.
The most fascinating suite in the hotel is the Crystal suite, or the queen royal suite. It was named that way because all of its items were made out of blue glass and crystal.
The Haramlek Palace
The Haramlek Palace was built by King Ahmed Foaud in 1925 when he ordered his Italian architect, firotche, to construct it to be the summer residence of the Royal Family of Egypt at the time.
The Palace has a distinctive design that combines different types of styles with the Byzantine style dominant. This is besides the Gothic, Classic, and off course Islamic styles of architecture. The word Haramlek is a Turkish architecture term that used to describe the place where women stay and it was forbidden for anyone to enter this special ladies area.
The Haramlek Palace contains a lot of French antiquities and it was decorated richly in the Baroque and Rococo styles that consist of amazing ornaments of plants and geometric designs.
The Palace consists of a huge open air hall in the middle of it with all the rooms and suites surrounding it. The palace has three floors. The first floor consists of many rooms and halls and the most important among them is office of the king, the billiards hall, and the dinning lounge. The second floor used to host the chaperones and servants of the kings and queens, while the third and last floor hosted the suites of the king and the queen with a huge balcony in between. This floor also has the baby prince suite which was designed out of cork in order to prevent the sleeping baby from being disturbed because of the sound of footsteps.
In the reign of King Farouk, the palace was renewed and restored. King Farouk wanted to dig a crypt that goes from the palace directly to the sea in order for him to use it in case of any attack taking place at the palace. However, he was not able to complete it because of the Egyptian revolution in 1952.
Today, the Montazah Complex serves as one of the most popular picnic spots in Alexandria. The last time I went to Alex, I took my wife and mother to the Montazah. My mother wanted to rest in the Helnan Hotel where she stayed in the Zodiac restaurant and had a lemon juice and a club sandwich while she was reading her novel happily in front of the sea.
Me and my wife took a walk in the gardens of Montazah and then we went to the gulf of Al Montazah were we took photos as the place is a wonderful sport for photography fans. At the end of the day we joined my mother for a fish meal in the Helnan Hotel. It was an amazing experience before we took the car back to Cairo in our last day of our short weekend trip to Alexandria.