By Malak Khaled
Édouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, was a wealthy Belgian engineer, entrepreneur, financier and Egyptologist. He arrived in Egypt in 1904 to rescue one of the projects of his company. In 1906, he established the Cairo Electric Railways and Heliopolis Oases Company. This company then proceeded to build the then-new town of Heliopolis in the desert, ten kilometers from the center of Cairo. Designed as a “city of luxury and leisure”, it had broad avenues and was equipped with essential conveniences and infrastructure like water, drains, and electricity, as well as hotel facilities like the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, which was the former presidential palace.
In modern times, the Baron Empain is best known for the palace “The Palais Hindou”, currently known as the “Baron Empain Palace”, which was designed by the architect Alexandre Marcel and decorated by Georges-Louis Claude. The palace was artistically designed so that all rooms and halls are exposed to the sun from all directions. In 1911, the construction of the palace was fully completed.
For several decades the building has been sitting empty and rumors circulated about how it’s haunted and is a place for satanic rituals. But now, after a two-year restoration period, the Baron Palace is set to open to the public. The palace is said to also be featuring a historic exhibition on the history of Heliopolis, as well as a visitor services area.
After the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities posted pictures of the newly renovated palace, many people commented on the color of the building. However, the ministry came out in defense of it, saying that the burnt sienna color of the restored building is the original and authentic color of the palace, citing the book “Le Roman d’Héliopolis” by historian Amelie D. Arschot, which says that the building was in burnt sienna and white, and was inspired by 12th-century temples in northern India.
The restoration work on the palace was carried out in collaboration with the Armed Forces Engineering Authority and the Arab Contractors Company on a budget of more than 100 million Egyptian pounds.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi officially inaugurated Baron Palace on the 29th of June. In celebration of the inauguration, the palace opened its doors to visitors from 9 am to 6 pm for two weeks with an allowed maximum capacity of 10 visitors in each hall and 15 visitors on the roof.
The tour inside the palace takes 45 minutes, and the tourism and antiquities minister set a maximum limit for tickets sold until mid-July, after which the limit will be changed.
The palace entry ticket costs 20 Egyptian Pounds for Egyptians, and 10 Egyptian Pounds for Egyptian students. On the other hand, the ticket costs 100 Egyptian Pounds for foreign visitors and 50 Egyptian pounds for foreign students. Tickets allow visitors to enter the palace, its gardens, and see a tram that is on display. The visit to the roof, however, costs extra, at 20 Egyptian pounds for Egyptian visitors and 50 Egyptian pounds for foreign visitors.