The Palace

Looks like it should be in India, doesn’t it?

Not even the same continent. This one is practically in downtown Cairo.

When Baron Edward Empain built his palace in Heliopolis, just over a century ago, it was just east of the city. Cairo has grown considerably in the past hundred years, and now you get there by public transit.

Actually, you always could. The Baron came from Belgium to build Cairo’s transit system, which is why there are a couple of old trolley cars on display on the grounds.

As for the Indian theme, the Baron was a fan. He was also an amateur Egyptologist. I guess he didn’t care that it looks out of place. No matter the architectural style, it is an impressive structure.

If you’ve been to Cairo this may be one of the attractions you missed. It was a family residence for years, then fell into disrepair. It has only recently been renovated and re-opened as a museum a couple of years ago, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given that tourists are just now returning to Egypt, I don’t think it has seen many foreigners yet.

I have only been to a few Egyptian tourist attractions, but the thing I have noted that they have in common is a paucity of documentation. Maybe in this age of smartphones you are expected to go online to find out what you are looking at.  But tourists don’t always have internet access in the countries they visit.

This palace though had all the information I could have asked for. I learned about the Baron and his family, about the many businesses he started and about the growth of Cairo’s transit system. I may share a little of that in the days to come – I took enough pictures that i think we’ll stay on this topic for another day or more.

Maybe all the information is because the family furniture is long gone. So the rooms are filled with displays instead, with lots of photos of the city around the time the palace was built. I found it most informative.

There’s a cafe on The grounds, which I didn’t check out, and some nice gardens and sculpture to admire. For an extra fee you can go up on the roof and get some great views of the neighborhood. I found that to be worth it.

Foreigners pay more than Egyptians, but that seems to be the norm in Cairo. I guess they figure of you can afford to travel you can afford to pay a little extra. And it really was reasonably priced – 150 Egyptian pounds gets you into the palace, the grounds and the roof. That’s about five American dollars.

An Indian palace is not what you would have expected to find in an Egyptian city, but isn’t that part of the joy of traveling? The whole idea is to see something unexpected and make (hopefully) some lasting memories of new places.

Some tourist sites you want to return to again and again. I don’t think Baron Empain’s palace is in that category – once was probably enough. But if you are heading for Cairo I would say it is definitely worth the visit.


One comment

  1. Philip Allan · · Reply

    1) I bet the Cairo transit system when it was built, let alone today, blows OC Transpo out of the water.

    2) In Bangkok and other parts of Thailand, entrance to national museums (and palaces I think) is free for Thais ( it is their national treasures after all), but others have to pay.

    perhaps our government could learn a bit about what is “ours” vs “their” (think museums and tax dollars!).


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