Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Short Story: Restoring The Baron’s Palace

Restoration work at the Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis finally started this week after years of delay, reports Nevine El-Aref.

The legendary Baron Empain Palace on Orouba Street in Heliopolis is no longer an abandoned edifice built in an Indian architectural style. Earlier this week, the palace and its garden were buzzing with restorers and workers wearing yellow helmets and bearing electronic equipment and manual tools, all signalling that after years of negligence the long-awaited restoration project has begun at the Baron Empain Palace.

“In 18 months, the exquisite Palace of Baron Empain will open its doors to visitors not only as a tourist destination but also as a theatre and a cultural and social centre,” Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, director of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project and responsible for the restoration of the palace, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said that the work had started in collaboration with the Armed Forces Engineering Authority which had assigned the Arab Contractors Company to execute it with a budget of LE113.738 million.

“This budget is part of a larger amount of LE1,270 billion provided by the government to the Ministry of Antiquities to restore and develop eight archaeological sites and monuments that are in dire need of work,” Abdel-Aziz said.

He said that these sites included the Mohamed Ali Palace in Shubra, the King Farouk Rest House at Giza, the Alexan Palace in Assiut, the Jewish synagogue in Alexandria, the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, the Giza Plateau Development Project and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation in Fustat in Cairo.

In order to achieve the work, Abdel-Aziz said that a comprehensive study of the palace’s condition and detailed architectural and archaeological surveys had been carried out before starting any restoration work.

The studies had also included the palace’s photographic documentation and exploratory drilling in some parts of the palace to inspect the condition of its foundations. An integrated documentation file of all architectural elements and façades has been prepared using 3D technology and comprehensive monitoring stations.

According to the Palace Rehabilitation Project agreed upon in principle by the ministry’s Permanent Committee for Islamic and Coptic Monuments, after restoration the palace will be used as a cultural centre, with its front garden hosting a cafeteria and exhibition area and its backyard being converted into an open-air theatre.

The basement will be a social centre, while the ground floor will be used for different purposes. The first floor will be used as a “royal wing” where visitors can spend the night. A new cultural centre devoted to reading in particular will also be provided in the palace.

The story of the palace started in 1904 when Belgian industrialist Edouard Empain arrived in Egypt to construct a railway line linking the lower Egyptian city of Mansoura to Matareya on the far side of Lake Manzala.

He became entranced by the country and its distinguished civilisations. Although his company, the Chemins de Fer de la Basse-Egypte, failed to complete the intended project, Empain remained in Egypt and married an Egyptian, Yvette Boghdadi.


Two years later he established the Cairo Electric Railways and Heliopolis Oases Company, which laid out plans for the new town of Heliopolis 10km northwest of Cairo.

When it was finished, Heliopolis was a luxurious and leisured suburb with elegant villas with wide terraces, apartment buildings, and tenement blocks with balconies, hotels and facilities, as well as recreational amenities including a golf course, racetrack and a large park.

While workmen were busy constructing the new suburb of Heliopolis, Empain asked French architect Alexandre Marcel to build him a magnificent palace in the Avenue of Palaces (now Orouba Street) that would stand out from the others being built in the same period....  READ MORE. 

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