Wednesday, January 27, 2016

News: Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities Denies Investigation into Restoration Project of Baron Empain's Palace

Allegations of handing the restoration of Al-Baron Empain palace to an inefficient concrete company are unfounded the Minister of Antiquities announced. Written By/ Nevine El-Aref.

Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities has denied that it is under investigation for handing the restoration project of the Baron Empain Palace to a company specialising in concrete and not architecture.

Reports went viral on social media claiming that an investigation is taking place of Ministry of Antiquities' officials due to handing the restoration project to an inefficient company.

The Head of the Engineering syndicate said in media statements that he sent the minister an official letter asking him to be more cautious in restoring such a great palace and to hand it to an architecture company.

"All these allegations are unfounded lies," the Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told Ahram Online on Tuesday.

He went on to say that the ministry did not receive any letter from the head of the engineering syndicate and that there has not been any administrative investigation into such a case.

Eldamaty explained that the consultant bureau, which is executing the feasibility studies on the restoration project, has launched a brain storming campaign, inviting people from all over the country to send their suggestions on how to make the best use of such a palace after restoration.

Mohamed Abdel Aziz, the Ministry of Antiquities assistant for Islamic and Coptic monuments, told Ahram Online that the consultant bureau is well known and is registered on the ministry’s list of eligible consultant bureaus that it has been working with for many years.

The bureau is responsible for the execution of several restoration projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities such as Al-Sakakini palace, Amr Ibnul As mosque in Damietta, the Museum of Islamic Art in Babul Khalq, the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria and Saint Anthony Monastery in the Red Sea, among others.

Abdel Aziz went on to say that the bureau will not execute any restoration work of the palace, and that it is only responsible for preparing all required feasibility studies and documents to launch a bid to select the company that would restore the palace.

"All the work executed by the bureau was free of charge in an attempt to help in the restoration of such a great historical palace," Abdel Azizi highlighted, adding that it would not spend any other expenses until the completion of all the required documents and studies that would be reviewed by specialised committees from the antiquities ministry.

Abdel Azizi asserted that all the executed work and steps taken in this project are completely under the supervision of the ministry, as well as a team of engineers, restorers and archeologists.

A team of Belgium experts, he asserted, will arrive in Cairo very soon to participate in the palace restoration project and to make suggestions on how the palace can be utlised after its restoration.

The restoration project of the Baron Palace consists of two parts, Abdel Azizi explained- the first involves studies on the restoration works and the second part is find the best way to re-use the palace and its garden.

According to 2010 restoration project, planned in collaboration with a Belgium mission, the project came to a halt after it lost its budget following the 2011 revolution.

The palace was meant to be transformed into an international cultural centre and for a small museum to be set up in the relating to the history of Heliopolis from 1907 to 1911- the period during which the palace was built.

Documents and rare books from the same era will also be exhibited. A small jewellery museum, a ceremonial hall and a meeting room were also part of the plan.

"Now with the brain storming campaign, other ideas and suggestions to how to re-use the palace will be provided," Abdel Aziz said.

The gigantic Baron Empain Palace, with its distinctive and historic architecture inspired by Cambodia's celebrated Angkor Wat temple lies in Cairo's Al-Orouba Street in Heliopolis.

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, with 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.

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