The Baron Palace
A legendary palace of mysterious reflections and architectural elements that stir the most dormant of imaginations, The Baron Palace stands today in the modern district of Cairo, Heliopolis; silently echoing the magical period of the Baron. The Palace is a true enchantment which continues to be a rare reminder of a significant era of grandiose proportions, leisurely celebrations, exotic decorations and grand balls of royal presence.
Built in the early 20th century (between 1907 and 1910), the palace occupied a large expanse of land in the midst of the new city of leisure and luxury, Heliopolis. A district that was on the brink of creation, an ambitious project of converting the desert into a region with wide open areas of residential masterpieces, spacious roads, facilities and amenities to suit the royal elite.
The owner of the Baron Palace was the Belgian-born industrialist, Baron-General Edouard Louis Joseph Empain (1852-1929), who was known for his extravagant nature and passionate character. Sources state that while in Egypt on business, he had an affair with the Egyptian desert, sparking his desire for Heliopolis, and later fell in love with a beautiful Cairene socialite, Yvette Boghdadli. Together, they initiated the new city of Heliopolis, building every possible facility that could be needed by the elite, including a racetrack, a golf course and the like, in addition to constructing fine residential housing to suit the preferences of a distinct social class, whilst not forgetting to include more mediocre public housing.
The city was built in a unified building style, except for the palace and home of Empain, for which he chose to build in a Hindu style of prestigious aesthetics. Alexander Marcel, a French architect was assigned this task and challenge, and attempted to create an authentic realization of the vision that Empain had in mind. To this end, Marcel employed skilled Indonesian artists and sculptors, who labored in the creation of a masterpiece of architectural excellence with pure Hindu influences.
The construction of the exterior and interior of the palace was assigned to specialized teams to enable the professional execution and recreation of a residential Hindu temple. This they certainly did achieve, for as one enters the courtyard of the Palace, the initial feeling is one of magnificence and amazement. The sculptures, reliefs, murals, gilded ornamentation and mythical stone figures, which were once in crisp conditions of glistening reflections, must have set off the most intriguing discussions between the privileged guests.
The open courtyard surrounding the palace is landscaped with several pathways, while the main and largest pathway, wide enough to accommodate several vehicles, leads to the grand staircase of the palace. On either side of the main pathway are statues of snakes, elephants, Buddhas and Krishnas that are frozen in time with skillfully-created expressions. Today, some of the sculptures remain in good condition, the majority however are fragments of the statues, but are more than enough to invoke the most vivid of legends. Unfortunately, the grand size of the palace and open yards exist today as deserted rubble and guarded grounds that were once filled with lush greenery and foliage, creating an exotic contrast to the mythical stone sculptures.
The palace building itself has two main floors, with other underground divisions. The exterior of the building is ordained with chiseled stone, relief architecture, with the focal point being a Hindu style dome.
As the palace was located in one of the most prestigious locations, so were its neighbors, who included kings and pashas of the time. The guests of the Palace that Empain hosted were of course of equal stature, among whom were most notably King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians.
The Palace itself accommodated the Baron's entire family, ending with his grandchildren who sold the Palace to Saudi buyers. The splendor and excessiveness of the Palace was enjoyed by both the Baron and his son in full effect. Each of whom embodied a real-life Great Gatsby in his own right, hosting elite balls, lavish parties of luxurious atmospheres, filling the halls of the palace with music, dance, and a fine collection of the country's social elite. The Baron's grandchildren however weren't so keen on the lifestyle or architectural tendencies of their parents, and thus handed over their mythical home to their buyers of choice.
Today, the Palace is considered an antiquity, and neither its current owners nor the Egyptian government has restored or opened the palace for visitors. It remains as a silent architectural masterpiece on one of the most used motor-highways in Egypt, existing in the distant sandy rubble of what survived of its treasures. The Baron Palace continues to invoke new and old legends, stories, fairytales, and mythical imaginations that spread along as rumors, echoing the morbid silence of its walls.