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The Myth of the Orient

Architecture and Ornament in the Age of Orientalism

Edited By Francine Giese and Ariane Varela Braga

This volume commemorates the 160th anniversary of the Selamlik of Oberhofen Castle near Thun – one of the most significant Swiss Orientalist interiors, designed by the Bernese architect Theodor Zeerleder (1820–1868) – by presenting the latest research on the spectacular smoking room inspired by the luxurious reception halls in Cairo, which Zeerleder discovered during his travels to the East. At the same time, this collection of essays explores the significance of the famous city on the Nile as a privileged model for 19th-century architecture and ornamentation, bringing together papers by Mercedes Volait (Paris), Romain Siegenfuhr (Paris), Richard Parisot (Besançon), Elke Pflugradt-Abdel Aziz (Düsseldorf), Tarek Ibrahim (Berlin), Vincenza Garofalo (Palermo), Andrea Lermer (München), Rémi Labrusse (Paris), Ariane Varela Braga (Zürich), Leïla el-Wakil (Genève), Francine Giese (Zürich) and Annette Loeffel (Bern).

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Johann Adam Rennebaum and the Architecture of Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo



Few buildings embody the waxing and waning of European influence in Egypt during the 19th and 20th centuries as profoundly as Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. Prior to its destruction during the “Black Saturday” riots in 1952, the building was a potent symbol of the problematic relationship between Orient and Occident, colonized and colonizer, as well as the meeting place of the world’s elite. On the site previously occupied by Napoleon’s headquarters during his ill-fated Egyptian campaign, a humble lodge was transformed into one of the world’s legendary hotels, a bastion of Western influence, the social epicenter of the Cairo season, and to Egyptians, the representation of British colonial occupation.

Although British troops withdrew from Egypt after 1947, they maintained control of the Suez Canal. On January 25th 1952, British forces attempted to turn the auxiliary Egyptian police force out of its barracks in the city of Ismailia. The Egyptian police resisted. A siege ensued in which 50 Egyptians were killed1. When the news of the massacre reached Cairo the following day, it unleashed protests, which quickly turned into rioting mobs that set fire to “any establishments displaying a certain degree of luxury or suggesting collusion with the foreigner”2. As a potent symbol of European influence in Egypt, the hotel quickly became the focus of the mob’s fury. Breaking into ← 79 | 80 → the hotel, rioters burned the grand Victorian edifice to the ground in twenty minutes3. On the same site where the...

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