Once host to Scoop author’s eccentric, eclectic cast of fictional characters, the Itegue Taitu Hotel may play down its literary history, but the ghost of William Boot lingers

By Ian Gill (SCMP) |

The ghost of William Boot is back to haunt the resurrected Liberty Hotel.

Addis Ababa’s Itegue Taitu Hotel, made famous as the Liberty in Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s acclaimed 1938 satire about sensation-seeking foreign corres­pondents, has been restored following severe fire damage in early 2015, more than a century after it was built.

“It is a heritage building and has been repaired close to its original form,” acting manager Woineshet “Winy” Teshome says, as I wallow in literary nostalgia over curried chicken in Ethiopia’s oldest hotel.

The venerable hostelry’s two-storey black-and-white facade, its wraparound exterior veranda and, within, its high ceilings, wooden floors and monumental staircase would be easily recognizable by Empress Taitu Betul, after whom it was named. The third wife of Emperor Menelik II conceived it as a place where guests “could dine in tranquillity while enjoying the cool breeze and views of the plains below,” according to the potted history written on the hotel menu.

In 1896, Menelik II had stunned the world by defeating a large and well-equipped Italian army at Adwa. It was a shocking reversal in the scramble by Western powers to colonize Africa.

In its aftermath, Menelik II sought to unite and modernize a nation fragmented by feudal fiefdoms scattered over a vast and often inhospitable terrain. This involved bringing in foreign advisers, diplomats and businessmen – all of whom had to be accommodated.

In 1905, the Taitu Hotel began to take shape. With its flat roof and rectangular shape, it reflected the mix of European, Indian and local features that characterized many of the young capital’s buildings in the early 20th century.

Located conveniently between the palace (which now houses the prime minister’s office) and the main market, the Taitu Hotel hosted, among many foreign dignitaries and businessmen, British, Italian and German envoys. In the early days, water for its bathtubs was carried on donkeys from the nearby hot springs, which have since been claimed by high-end hotels such as the Addisu Filwoha Hotel & Hot Springs resort.

Today, compared with its many-starred rivals, the Taitu is modest in facilities and price; Lonely Planet describes it as offering “a cash-strapped overlander a classy experience for very little coin”.

Continue reading this story at South China Morning Post
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