Sheikh Aly's Hotel
In Luxor, Egypt
by Lara Iskander
Today, the east Bank is considered the "modernized" side of the city. Though it does contain famous temples and ancient sites, it mostly houses all the luxurious and modern five star hotels, restaurants, the local markets giving tourists an unforgettable stay.
But to really see Luxor, one would be spending most of his time on the West Bank. There you still get a feeling of the slow paced village life in the surrounding of endless and priceless ancient pharonic sites. There are many small hotels on the West Bank that are becoming more in vogue nowadays. They are cozy, clean, close to the sites and definitely cheaper for budget travelers.
It is named after its founder "El Sheikh Aly" who is a descendant of the famous Luxor clan "Abd el Rasoul". Their name has been often related in different ways to the excavation missions in the Theban necropolis. As most of the locals of "Qurna", this family worked with the excavation missions in the area for ages, but at a certain point, there were roomers of tomb theft related to them. No one really knows how true it was since nothing was proven.
Sheikh Aly grew up on the West Bank and worked as most of his family members in excavation. Then during the 1920's a building lodging the "Chicago House", where American researchers did their studies and practical work was abandoned as they moved their quarters to Luxor.
Sheikh Aly seemed to have found his golden opportunity and took over the area deciding to develop it into a hotel. He wanted to turn the place into an Inn where Egyptian and foreign artists, tourists and locals can get together. The idea turned out to be a great success even though it was set in a rural and remote area.
Famous Egyptian artist "Mohammed Nagui" was one of the first to appreciated the idea, for he himself was longing to establish an art studio in Luxor. In 1941, "El Marsam" expanded and anther building was constructed as Nagui wanted his students to spend more time there.
The building that was added was built in the same style as the original. Following "Hassan Fathy's" building methods, it is most suitable the surrounding area and climate. These building still stand in very good shape today.
Others were also inspired by the place. "El Marsam" was visited then by many famous artists such as "Hamid Said", "Salah Taher" and "Hassan Fathy".
Sheikh Aly started out his projects with a dozen rooms and kept expanding due to the high demand that started including many Egyptologists and archeologists working on the nearby sites.
The combination of visitors was remarkable as they all shared same interests and enjoyed simple discussions in the open courtyard and conversations with Sheikh Aly, an excavator and an art lover with many interesting stories to tell.
"El Marsam" started welcoming more and more foreigners working in the area and many missions usually book the place for their whole stay. This is still the case today.
One of the greatest assets of Sheikh Aly's Hotel is its location. After a 10 minute drive from the ferry, you'll be passing by the Colossi of Memnon, the monolithic twin statues which are almost the sole remainders of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. They are also seen from the hotel roof top.
To the west rise the hills of old Qurna village. A short walk from the hotel lies the Ramasseum. Further north still, hidden by a desert escarpment, is Deir Al-Bahari temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This is a wonderful hick as you will pass by numerous tombs on the hill and it is said that it is the road used by the ancient Egyptians.
On the opposite side, about 10 minute walk, lies Madinet Habu temple. Not to be missed of course. Hiring a bike from the hotel would be a great idea to be able to take in more of the surroundings.
Sheikh Aly Hotel is a primitive place and that is its secret charm that would make you prefer it to any other luxurious hotel. Sitting in the beautiful courtyard facing the fields and hills or on the roof top enjoying the sunset makes one easily slip into its quietness and simple atmosphere. There, one is most likely to meet with all sorts of ancient Egypt lovers (Egyptologists, archeologists) which will make your stay even more interesting.
The staff is very friendly and the Egyptian plates they offer are delicious. Rooms are spacious, quiet and comfortable. Running it now is son of Sheikh Aly and an Austrian lady who was visiting once, fell in love with the place and simply never left.
Original research by Lara Iskander