A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Weird Cairo: Qasr al-Baron in Heliopolis

Qasr al-Baron
Quick now: if you don't recognize the building at left, where do you think it stands? The tall tower certainly echoes Angkor Wat, and there are other distinctly Cambodian elements to the place.

But it's not in Southeast Asia, it's in Cairo, in the modern (early 20th Century) suburb of Heliopolis, built there by one of the originators of that distinctive and European suburb, the Belgian Baron Empain. He called it the Palais Hindou and modeled it on Angkor Wat and a Temple at Orissa in India. Egyptians today call it Qasr al-Baron, or the Palace of the Baron, though I've also heard it called Qasr al-Magnun (Palace of the Madman.)

Another View
He was, however, no madman. He designed the tramlines of many European cities, and Cairo's, and conceived, with an Egyptian partner, the idea of Heliopolis. Though Heliopolis has a charming, early 20th century European feel to it (especially the neighborhood still known, from an early theatre, as "Roxy"), with a lot of interesting architecture, the expansion of Cairo to the northeast has seen it increasingly surrounded by Egyptian Army and Air Force bases and academies, and along with adjacent Nasr City it has become a major residential center for senior military officers (and many senior political figures as well).

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