Cairo’s Baron Empain Palace receives visitors after $10.9m restoration

The building contains a multitude of displays, including vintage cars. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Cairo’s Baron Empain Palace receives visitors after $10.9m restoration

  • Building is now a museum to daily life in Heliopolis district in early 20th century

CAIRO: The Baron Empain Palace in Cairo this week began receiving visitors, nearly 3 years after the beginning of a development project to restore the palace and create an exhibition space to tell the history of the Heliopolis district of Egypt’s capital city.
Tickets, issued by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, sold out following the palace’s official opening on June 29.
Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Anany expressed his happiness that so many Egyptians visited the palace after its inauguration to learn more about Heliopolis and aspects of daily life in Egypt in the early 20th century.
The cost of the restoration was 175 million Egyptian pounds ($10.9 million).
In a statement, El-Anany said the palace would take visitors into the past, to when Belgian entrepreneur Baron Edouard Empain began construction of the Heliopolis district, one of the most famous in Cairo, and of his magnificent palace.
The palace consists of a cellar and two floors above the ground, decorated with Greek statues and decorations inspired by Indian culture.
The building contains a multitude of displays, including vintage cars that were driven around the streets of Cairo in the early days of the last century, helping give a real-life picture of Heliopolis during that period. An old Heliopolis tram car, meanwhile, is showcased in the palace garden.
There are various electronic portals and multimedia displays throughout, which showcase pictures and documentaries focused on the construction work in Heliopolis and the palace.

The documentaries give visitors insight into the streets, buildings, shops, traffic and other aspects of life in the neighborhood in its formative years.
Walls are pasted with notices related to health and safety precautions approved by the ministry, which must be followed by visitors during their time inside the palace because of the coronavirus disease.
Screens also display images of Empain himself and his partner, Nubar Pasha, as well as the French engineer Alexandre Marcel who designed the palace.
Its gardens include a food cart inspired by the period of the palace, which provides drinks and snacks for visitors.
The palace also includes a cafeteria and a restaurant which recapture the historical atmosphere of the early 20th century.
Both eateries follow the guidelines of social distancing and the approved health and safety requirements.
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the cost of the restoration was 175 million Egyptian pounds ($10.9 million) in cooperation with the Belgian Embassy in Cairo.
Waziri said restoration work included reinforced concrete panels on the palace roofs, removing rust, treating cracks in the walls, removing and restoring the mosaic floor, replacing missing parts of the stucco decorations, and removing layers of paint, dust and dirt in addition to installing new electrical wiring.
“Work started in 2017 to restore the palace to its previous appearance and preserve it, while also making it public to visitors as a cultural and touristic landmark,” Waziri said.
The palace has been the property of the Supreme Council of Antiquities since 2007 after the government compensated its owners, who bought it from Empain’s heirs in the 1950s in exchange for land in New Cairo.
Ahmed Qadri, a specialist in antiquities restoration, said that the palace took four years to build, starting in 1907.
Empain obtained a concession from the Egyptian government to found Heliopolis on 6,000 acres with the participation of Pasha — the son of the head of the Egyptian government at the time.
“I went to the palace to see some of the stories that we were told about,” Hoda Sayed, a 22-year-old vistor, said.
“The palace tower rotates 360 degrees in order to provide a panoramic view from all directions. The entire building turns in the direction of the sun’s rotation. Rumors once circulated that the engineer who constructed the tower used magic to finish the job. The supposed magic was due to the palace having an Indian architectural style,” Sayed said.
The palace has long been rumored to be haunted. According to Sayed, residents living near the palace used to hear strange sounds, screams and music coming from inside the palace as well as lights shining brightly and fading quickly.
After the intervention of security, it was found that some young adults were sneaking into the abandoned palace to hold secret parties.
Among the myths circulated by the residents of Heliopolis for decades are that secret passages and tunnels run under the palace, including a corridor linking it to the Basilica Church where Empain is buried.


Greek PM calls for ‘sense’ from Turkey in East Med row

Updated 11 min 11 sec ago

Greek PM calls for ‘sense’ from Turkey in East Med row

  • Greek PM warns his country 'will not suffer blackmail'
  • Tensions between the two Mediterranean countries have been rising in recent weeks

ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday urged Turkey to show “sense” in a naval showdown in the Eastern Mediterranean over energy exploration which he warned could lead to a military accident.
Tensions were stoked Monday when Ankara dispatched the research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by Turkish naval vessels off the Greek island of Kastellorizo in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece also deployed warships to monitor the vessel, which is currently sailing west of Cyprus.
“We are vigilantly looking forward to sense prevailing, at last, in our neighboring country, so that dialogue may be re-initiated in good faith,” Mitsotakis said in a statement released by his office first in Greek, then in English with some variations.
“The risk of an accident lurks when so many military assets are gathered in such a contained area,” he warned.
The Greek PM said Athens would not seek to escalate the situation, but added: “No provocation will though go unanswered.”
Athens has demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Oruc Reis from what it regards as its continental shelf, and has asked for an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers on the issue.

“Our country never threatens but will not suffer blackmail either,” Mitsotakis said.
“We are not alone in this effort,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell said foreign ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting Friday to discuss the eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon and Belarus.
The incident is the latest spat over energy exploration in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean, a frequent source of disputes between Turkey and neighbors including Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will fly to Israel on Thursday for talks, his office said.
Dendias is also to address the issue with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Vienna on Friday.

A similar crisis last month was averted after Turkey pulled the Oruc Reis back to hold talks with Greece and rotating EU chair Germany.
But the mood soured last week after Greece and Egypt signed an agreement to set up an exclusive economic zone in the region.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said his country would step up energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and would not “compromise” on its rights.
Turkey has announced the Oruc Reis would carry out activities between August 10 and 23, in an area it considers its own continental shelf.
Mitsotakis on Monday conferred with his military chiefs and spoke with EU Council President Charles Michel and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sounded a slightly more conciliatory note after a meeting with his own ministers later Monday.
“Let us all come together as Mediterranean countries and find a formula that protects all of our rights,” Erdogan said in a national address.
But Erdogan added: “We cannot allow (nations) to ignore a big country like Turkey and try to imprison us to our shores.”
The Turkish foreign ministry has said the Greece-Egypt agreement was “null and void.”
Egypt, Cyprus and Greece have likewise denounced a contentious deal, including a security agreement, signed last year between Ankara and the UN-recognized government in Libya.
Greece, Cyprus and Israel in January signed an agreement for a huge pipeline project to transport gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe despite Turkey’s hostility to the deal.