On Cairo's Al-Orouba Street in Heliopolis lays the gigantic Baron Empain Palace, with its distinctive and historic architecture inspired by Cambodia's celebrated Angkor Wat temple. Despite its distinct architecture and importance as a historical landmark, the palace has remained closed for decades, far removed from Egypt’s tourism map.
On Sunday, following a brief meeting between Egypt’s Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim and Belgian ambassador to Egypt Bruno Néve de Mevergnies, however, the palace now appears set to return to its former glory.
In collaboration with the Belgian government, a comprehensive restoration project for the palace is to be carried out imminently with the aim of transforming it into an international cultural centre.
Ibrahim told Ahram Online that a small museum relating the history of Heliopolis from 1907 to 1911 – the period in which the palace was built – would be set up in the centre. Documents and rare books from the same era will also be exhibited. A small jewellery museum, a ceremonial hall and a meeting room are also in the works.
Mohsen Sayed Ali, head of the ministry's Coptic and Islamic Antiquities department, explained that the palace's walls would be restored, cracks filled up and decorations polished.
The Baron Empain Palace, or the Palais Hindou as it was previously known, was built by Belgian industrialist Baron-General Edouard Louis Joseph Empain, the son of a village schoolteacher who became one of Europe's greatest colonialist entrepreneurs of the 20th century. The palace was designed by French architect Alexandre Marcel, and decorated by Georges-Louis Claude.
Empain came to Egypt in 1904 with his company, in hopes of building a railway linking Mansoura to Matariya. Although his company ultimately lost the railway contract, Empain nevertheless stayed on in Egypt. In 1906, he established the Cairo Electric Railway and Heliopolis Oasis Company, and soon after began construction of the new town of Heliopolis – now one of Cairo's most elegant suburbs.