Baron Empain Palace – Is this Cairo’s Most Intriguing Building?

The Baron Empain Palace is without question unlike any other building in Cairo. In fact, you won’t see any other building like it anywhere else in Egypt for that matter. The palace is located in the wealthy Heliopolis suburb of Cairo, and it couldn’t possibly look more out of place than it does, but not in a bad sort of way.

The Abandoned Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis City in Cairo, Egypt

The abandoned Baron Empain Palace in Heliopolis City, Cairo.

From the very minute you lay your eyes on it Baron Empain Palace, you are automatically captivated by its design and appearance, and intrigued by its existence.

Hindu Architecture in the Midst of Cairo

If you like Hindu architecture, or if you are an Orientalist, then the Baron Empain Palace will well and truly make you feel as though you have just struck gold when you first see it. It is the most exquisitely bazaar building you will ever come across in the Land of the Pharaohs.

The design and style of the Baron Empain Palace is best described as being a beautiful blend of old traditional Hindu and Khmer architecture. The French architect who designed the palace really did turn out a true masterpiece.

NOTE: At the time of this post being written, the Baron Empain Palace was not yet open to the public as a result of ongoing renovations and restoration work. However, it still makes for a wonderful photo opportunity, both during the day as well as at night when it is beautifully lit up. Once this building is finally opened, there is no doubt that it will rapidly become one of the more popular places to visit in Cairo.

Baron Empain Palace – The Man, His City, and His Palace

Low angled view of external facade of Baron Empain Palace, Heliopolis district, Cairo, Egypt

Low angled view of external facade of Baron Empain Palace.

While some of the Great Pharaohs and some Roman Emperors might have built up cities, it is not every day that read about a single man building an entire city, and certainly not in more recent times. Well, that’s exactly what a Belgian businessman by the name of Édouard Empain did during the early 20th century.

Empain rapidly gained a reputation for his outstanding work at building rail transport systems. His company had already established a presence on three continents. One of his company’s most notable achievements was the Paris Metro which was built in 1897. It was after this project that the title of Baron was bestowed upon him the then King of Belgium.

During a visit to India, where his company was also active, he fell in love with Hindu architecture. Later, in 1906 when he was in Egypt, he set up another company called the Cairo Electric Railway and Heliopolis Oases Company. His idea was to connect central Cairo with the city of Heliopolis, which in fact did not even exist at the time.

Baron Empain then purchased 25 square kilometers of desert dunes from the British who still ruled Egypt at the time. His goal was to turn this chunk of the desert into a beautiful French-style urban oasis with luxurious Islamic-inspired buildings and his very own Hindu/Khmer-style palace right in the very heart of it.

Just 7 years later, his dream was realized, with the result being a city like no other city on earth, and at its core, the Baron Empain Palace with its abundance or astonishingly beautiful relief work. It is believed that palace’s iconic tower was even once able to rotate so that the Baron could enjoy 360º views of the city he had created.

Was the Magnificent Palace Cursed?

It wasn’t very long after taking up residence in the palace that the baron’s sister later fell to her death from one of the tower windows. Later, his daughter too would be found dead inside the palace. It is often said that her death was a result of suicide brought about by the physical disabilities she had been born with.

Following the Baron’s death in 1929, the Baron Empain Palace was inherited by his son, and later by his grandson. In 1957, his grandson decided to sell the palace at auction, and it was subsequently bought by a group of investors from Saudi Arabia. The new owners failed to maintain the palace and it fell into a state of disrepair. Many years later it was bought back by the Egyptian government.

Sadly, during the years it had stood empty; it was looted and defaced on numerous occasions.

The Baron’s Abode Gets a Facelift

Only in more recent times have the authorities decided to begin renovating and restoring this incredible piece of Egypt’s history. Nobody seems to know for sure when the Baron Empain Palace is set to open, but at least some progress is being made. Already, there are lush green gardens gracing the palace grounds.

Hopefully it won’t be long before visitors can stroll through the halls and rooms of a palace that wouldn’t look out of place at the ancient Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia.

Myths, Legends, and Superstitions

There is certainly no shortage of stories regarding the Baron Empain Palace. Many local taxi drivers, for example, will tell you that the palace is haunted. Others will tell you that devil worshippers go there to pray to Satan and to indulge in orgies.

Some might also tell you that the palace’s tower only lost its ability to rotate after the baron’s wife fell to her death. Apparently he was so busy playing with his tower that he failed to see her fall, and was therefore unable to rescue her. In an act of revenge, her spirit jammed the tower.

There have also rumors and stories regarding the death of the baron’s daughter. Some people claim that because of her physical disabilities, the baron would routinely keep her prisoner in the basement and subject her to harsh treatment. Was the baron ultimately responsible for her death?

Not much is clear regarding what exactly has happened within the confines of the palace, but one thing remains certain: the Baron Empain Palace continues to haunt people even after 100 years.

Visiting the Baron’s Palace in Cairo

Even though the Baron Empain Palace is still a relatively modern creation for Egypt, there is no denying its potential as a tourist attraction. It is a strikingly beautiful building, and one with a truly remarkable history. However, until the palace officially opens to the public, it is unlikely to feature in our top Egypt Tour Packages.

Of course, at Egypt Tours Plus, all of our Egypt travel packages, including our Cairo tour packages are fully customizable, meaning that a visit to this site can easily be added to any one of our existing tours if requested.