Cairo’s Baron Empain Palace receives visitors after $10.9m restoration

The building contains a multitude of displays, including vintage cars. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Cairo’s Baron Empain Palace receives visitors after $10.9m restoration

  • Building is now a museum to daily life in Heliopolis district in early 20th century

CAIRO: The Baron Empain Palace in Cairo this week began receiving visitors, nearly 3 years after the beginning of a development project to restore the palace and create an exhibition space to tell the history of the Heliopolis district of Egypt’s capital city.
Tickets, issued by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, sold out following the palace’s official opening on June 29.
Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Anany expressed his happiness that so many Egyptians visited the palace after its inauguration to learn more about Heliopolis and aspects of daily life in Egypt in the early 20th century.
The cost of the restoration was 175 million Egyptian pounds ($10.9 million).
In a statement, El-Anany said the palace would take visitors into the past, to when Belgian entrepreneur Baron Edouard Empain began construction of the Heliopolis district, one of the most famous in Cairo, and of his magnificent palace.
The palace consists of a cellar and two floors above the ground, decorated with Greek statues and decorations inspired by Indian culture.
The building contains a multitude of displays, including vintage cars that were driven around the streets of Cairo in the early days of the last century, helping give a real-life picture of Heliopolis during that period. An old Heliopolis tram car, meanwhile, is showcased in the palace garden.
There are various electronic portals and multimedia displays throughout, which showcase pictures and documentaries focused on the construction work in Heliopolis and the palace.

The documentaries give visitors insight into the streets, buildings, shops, traffic and other aspects of life in the neighborhood in its formative years.
Walls are pasted with notices related to health and safety precautions approved by the ministry, which must be followed by visitors during their time inside the palace because of the coronavirus disease.
Screens also display images of Empain himself and his partner, Nubar Pasha, as well as the French engineer Alexandre Marcel who designed the palace.
Its gardens include a food cart inspired by the period of the palace, which provides drinks and snacks for visitors.
The palace also includes a cafeteria and a restaurant which recapture the historical atmosphere of the early 20th century.
Both eateries follow the guidelines of social distancing and the approved health and safety requirements.
Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that the cost of the restoration was 175 million Egyptian pounds ($10.9 million) in cooperation with the Belgian Embassy in Cairo.
Waziri said restoration work included reinforced concrete panels on the palace roofs, removing rust, treating cracks in the walls, removing and restoring the mosaic floor, replacing missing parts of the stucco decorations, and removing layers of paint, dust and dirt in addition to installing new electrical wiring.
“Work started in 2017 to restore the palace to its previous appearance and preserve it, while also making it public to visitors as a cultural and touristic landmark,” Waziri said.
The palace has been the property of the Supreme Council of Antiquities since 2007 after the government compensated its owners, who bought it from Empain’s heirs in the 1950s in exchange for land in New Cairo.
Ahmed Qadri, a specialist in antiquities restoration, said that the palace took four years to build, starting in 1907.
Empain obtained a concession from the Egyptian government to found Heliopolis on 6,000 acres with the participation of Pasha — the son of the head of the Egyptian government at the time.
“I went to the palace to see some of the stories that we were told about,” Hoda Sayed, a 22-year-old vistor, said.
“The palace tower rotates 360 degrees in order to provide a panoramic view from all directions. The entire building turns in the direction of the sun’s rotation. Rumors once circulated that the engineer who constructed the tower used magic to finish the job. The supposed magic was due to the palace having an Indian architectural style,” Sayed said.
The palace has long been rumored to be haunted. According to Sayed, residents living near the palace used to hear strange sounds, screams and music coming from inside the palace as well as lights shining brightly and fading quickly.
After the intervention of security, it was found that some young adults were sneaking into the abandoned palace to hold secret parties.
Among the myths circulated by the residents of Heliopolis for decades are that secret passages and tunnels run under the palace, including a corridor linking it to the Basilica Church where Empain is buried.


Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

Updated 30 November 2020

Iran prepares to bury killed nuclear scientist as it mulls response

  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran
  • President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap”

TEHRAN: Debate raged in Iran on Sunday over how and when to respond to a top nuclear scientist’s assassination, blamed on arch-foe Israel, as his body was honored at Shiite shrines to prepare it for burial.
Two days after Mohsen Fakhrizadeh died from wounds sustained in a firefight between his guards and unidentified gunmen near Tehran, parliament demanded a halt to international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites while a top official hinted Iran should leave the global non-proliferation treaty.
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council usually handles decisions related to the country’s nuclear program, and parliamentary bills must be approved by the powerful Guardians Council.
President Hassan Rouhani has stressed the country will seek its revenge in “due time” and not be rushed into a “trap.”
Israel says Fakhrizadeh was the head of an Iranian military nuclear program, the existence of which the Islamic republic has consistently denied, and Washington had sanctioned him in 2008 for activities linked to Iran’s atomic activities.
The scientist’s body was taken for a ceremony on Sunday at a major shrine in the holy city of Qom before being transported to the shrine of the Islamic republic’s founder Imam Khomeini, according to Iranian media.
On Monday live video from Tehran, shared by national outlet Iran Press, showed uniformed men gathering around images of Fakhrizadeh seemingly ahead of a procession.
His funeral will be held in the presence of senior military commanders and his family, the defense ministry said on its website, without specifying where.
Israel has not officially commented on Fakhrizadeh’s killing, less than two months before US President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office after four years of hawkish foreign policy under President Donald Trump.
Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and then reimposed and beefed up punishing sanctions as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.
Biden has signalled his administration may be prepared to rejoin the accord, but the nuclear scientist’s assassination has revived opposition to the deal among Iranian conservatives.
The head of Iran’s Expediency Council, a key advisory and arbitration body, said there was “no reason why (Iran) should not reconsider the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.”
Mohsen Rezai said Tehran should also halt implementation of the additional protocol, a document prescribing intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilitates.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Saturday for Fakhrizadeh’s killers to be punished.
Parliament speaker Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf called Sunday for “a strong reaction” that would “deter and take revenge” on those behind the killing of Fakhrizadeh, who was aged 59 according to Iranian media.
For Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Fakhrizadeh’s killing was clearly tied to Biden’s arrival in office.
“The timing of the assassination, even if it was determined by purely operational considerations, is a clear message to President-elect Joe Biden, intended to show Israel’s criticism” of plans to revive the deal, it said.
The UAE, which in September normalized ties with Israel, condemned the killing and urged restraint.
The foreign ministry, quoted by the official Emirati news agency WAM, said Abu Dhabi “condemns the heinous assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which could further fuel conflict in the region...
“The UAE calls upon all parties to exercise maximum degrees of self-restraint to avoid dragging the region into new levels of instability and threat to peace,” it said.
Britain, a party to the nuclear accord, said Sunday it was “concerned” about possible escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the assassination, while Turkey called the killing an act of “terrorism” that “upsets peace in the region.”
In Iran, ultra-conservative Kayhan daily called for strikes on Israel if it were “proven” to be behind the assassination.
Kayhan called for the port city of Haifa to be targeted “in a way that would annihilate its infrastructure and leave a heavy human toll.”
Iran has responded to the US withdrawal from the 2015 deal by gradually abandoning most of its key nuclear commitments under the agreement.
Rezai called on Iran’s atomic agency to take “minimum measures” such as “stopping the online broadcast of cameras, reducing or suspending inspectors and implementing restrictions in their access” to sites, ISNA news agency reported.
Iran’s parliament said the “best response” to the assassination would be to “revive Iran’s glorious nuclear industry.”
It called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to be barred from the country’s atomic sites, said the legislature’s news agency ICANA.
Some MPs had earlier accused inspectors of acting as “spies” potentially responsible for Fakhrizadeh’s death.
But the spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, told IRNA on Saturday that the issue of inspectors’ access “must be decided on at high levels” of the Islamic republic’s leadership.