The Reincarnation of Baron Empain Palace*

The Baron palace always seemed to be an intriguing place.  For some reason it has been associated by many with the Beast’s palace in my favourite Beauty and the Beast the Cartoon.  Childish..Superstitious..could be! But a palace like this is bound to have a captivating story behind it.  Many questions are begging to be answered!

The story goes like this: A month or less before the Heliopolis Centennial Celebration, a festival that took place in May 2005, the national newspapers announced that the Palace is now state-owned property and would be opened soon to visitors.  Fifty-five days later the palace was closed. 

Considering its history and the interesting story behind it, I decided to pay it a visit….the minute I stepped inside the large garden I felt a sense of royalty… the palace itself is literally a massive architectural extravaganza.

In 1904, Belgian Baron Edward Louis Joseph Empain first arrived to Egypt with only one intention: rescuing his company’s project to construct a railway line connecting Matariya to Port Said.  Although the mission failed and he lost the contract to the British, he made up his mind to stay in Egypt.  It is said that the Baron had fallen in love.  But no one knew whether it was with the desert or one of the Egypt’s most beautiful elites.

In 1907, Baron Empain decided to build a home from which to overlook the rise of the promising City of Heliopolis.  He commissioned two French artists to design his castle; Alexander Marcel was responsible for the exterior, and the interior was assigned to Georges-Louis Claude. The palace architecture is of a cross-cultural nature with an extraordinary mixture of Hindu and Renaissance architecture along Marcel’s own adaptation of the Cambodian temples in Angkor Wat. Located in Heliopolis, the palace was apparently built on an artificial elevation in order to allow the Baron to continue his ongoing work in the new project back then “Heliopolis”. 

While passing through the small yet immeasurably artistic details, one wonders how on earth they completed it in just three years! Floral designs and other images are carved in the stone walls surrounding the terrace. Dragons, Krishnas, and Shivas engraved in leaf-shaped formations mark the four edges of the terrace to make for a Stunning huge ornamented façade.  The rooftop especially stands out with its 3 or 4 shaded benches and a concrete stage in the middle.  One can presume that Baron Empain probably used it as an entertainment facility, yet there are no references to this.

Although exploring the palace is a great pleasure, it was like seeing a beautiful bride in her coffin.  The walls are totally covered with such lines as “for the memory of…” which made me wonder with horror if they were painted during the restoration process!  The parquet floor is stripped off and thin marble cracks spread out like spider webs behind the huge stylish fireplace.  Frames are only left with no mirrors, doorknobs are missing and kitchens and bathrooms are lacking their most distinctive characteristics like sinks, bathtubs, and toilet seats.  Even the elevators the Elevators!  The torn out belts gives the only clue that they even existed.  The Baron Empain Palace had been abandoned in every sense of the word. 

Only three generations occupied the mansion before it was deserted: the Baron Empain himself, followed by his Son Baron Jean Empain, and finally Edward Emapin’s grandchildren Janine and Huguette; after which the huge mansion has became a rich source for legends and fables.   

Superstitions usually arise with the unknown, and the Baron Palace was no exception.  One myth affirms that the palace is built on a rotating base to allow the Baron to manage the entire area while sitting in one place.

Another one says that there is a secret tunnel that connects the palace with the Basilique church. Moreover, there have been countless accounts and tales of lights mysteriously turning on and music emerging from the house.

No matter what happened, the place is so peaceful inside; one can easily imagine what it was like during its days of glory. Its spirit of royalty becomes apparent as soon as you step onto the outside stairs that lead to the main entrance; it is there mingling with the air, bringing the past to life and giving its visitors an opportunity to hear its stories.  Unfortunately, it has been vigorously neglected, as the case with many of our unobserved national treasures.

The palace has closed its doors again and is under restoration, with the ” intention of turning it into a museum”.  One must visit the palace to find the truth.  We are looking forward to seeing those doors open again announcing the reincarnation of the Baron Palace.

* My article for the Art Review, June issue.

Photos: Eman M

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Published in: on July 3, 2006 at 9:25 am  Comments (15)  

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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have always wondered why our government doesn’t make use of this magnificent palace. In other countries, we see a tourist attraction consisting of 2 stones surrounded by 10 spot lights and people are making a fuss out of it. They talk about the temple from which these 2 stones came and that nothing left of the temple but the 2 poor stones ya 7aram, blab la bla. You can also see 2 brave soldiers guarding the 2 stones, ya3ni 3askari le kol stonaia, shofty el hana!
    On the other hand, in our country we have real history and antiquities but unfortunately abandoned.
    It is really a waste to close such place.
    I loved your description, very vivid yet very simple. Thanks for the information.

  2. When u come isa I will take you to places u would never believe it really exits.

  3. I am keeping my fingers crossed 🙂

  4. I just visited the palace a few weeks ago. There are tubs in the bathroom. lol! the place is erie but you sense the history of the palace the second you step foot on the grounds. The garden is looking better than before but the true beauty is yet to come after the restoration. The best place is the roof top. I can’t wait to see that restored. Interesting beauty to this palace.

  5. I wish they get done with the restoration someitme soon…
    interesting!! how did you manage to get inside!!

  6. 7 years is the estimate for the renovations to be complete. they have to really get back the true sense of the palace. it is very detailed and very damaged. the care taker for the palace explained it all to us. the renovations haven’t even started. a large number of engineers just started work on the project and it will take 5-7 years before completed. doesn’t mean that the care taker isn’t nice enough to let you in for a real tour of the old palace. the details to the palace are very delicate. if you see them then you’ll understand why they don’t want to do a bad job with it.

  7. Been in a tour inside the palace a couple of years ago, however, will try to go again if I can convince the care taker to let me in.
    As for the renovations…I do understand the palace is all about details however, the renovations should have started 2 years ago when they said they are gonna start…it is a waste to leave such a beauty neglected keda.

  8. thank u very very very much 4 ur description. i’ve been tryin 2 make a research about that palace and believe me.
    u ‘ve been so useful
    i’ve always wanted to visit that palace.i envy u 🙂

  9. Sally, am glad it helped ya3ni…i would love to have a second visit begad..the palace is gorgeous

  10. I remember as a child my mother always as we passed by “this is Baron Empain’s palace”, the gates were always closed and completely deserted. I often wandered does anyone ever live here, or did anyone ever lived in it. Now I am in my 60’s and I finally found out some of its history. Thank you for the research.

  11. hi, thanks very much about wat u wrote n i always wanted 2 know about dat castle, but now they dont let any1 in dat castle
    n srry if u dont wanna hear that i am a metal-head but i realli care n i realli wanna know wat happened in dat castle , when the police took some metal ppl , they killed cats n they were naked n they did some metal concertz , plz any1 i realli wanna know the true story , ppl in egypt insult metal ppl after dat story n i wanna know the truth about wat happened n at lest i need a prove n i need picture n i am read 2 face the police cuz i am sure that its realli not goood for god if u r santan but not all metalz r santan , n its realli unfair wat they’ve done 2 dis ppl n plz any1 who readz about ma comment n knowz the true story or knowz how if i wanna get a very very old newzpaper about dat newz that happened in EGYPT n thankz

  12. Not to worry, this important recent century monument or so called Hindu Palace will be restored with help from ASI (Archeological Society of India).

    URL:
    http://www.thehindu.com/2008/09/29/stories/2008092956892000.htm

    Hopefully during our next visit, we should be able to see its former glory and art.

  13. that sounds great, I have a couple of questions, can you plz provide an email or get in touch with me on
    nermeena285@gmail.com

    thank you

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    I am getting experience every day by reading thes nice articles.

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