An icon of Cairo and in one of its most charming neighbourhoods, the Baron Palace is Heliopolis’ crown jewel. It is a reminder of better, more luxurious times when the now-bustling area was a remote, but well-connected suburb built about 10km outside Cairo.
When the baron, a Belgian colonial entrepreneur by the name of Edouard Louis Joseph Empain, built Heliopolis, he built it on a plateau above the Nile valley in a carefully chosen place. It would have cool breezes from the north, but still be protected by the Moqattam hill from occasional hot winds from the south, making it warmer in winter and cooler in summer than anywhere in the city.
Today, what is left of the Baron’s legacy, besides the ever-expanding neighbourhood, is his mansion on Orouba street, which is now joined by other sprawling mansions.
The Baron Palace was built between 1907 and 1911 by Alexandre Marcel, in Hindu style using reinforced architecture to mimic the Angkor Wat temple of Cambodia, with a rotating base so it would get light all day long.
For years, the abandoned mansion was the focus of many urban legends, (including a notorious Satanist case not too long ago), until the palace was purchased by the government in 2005. Though it has remained closed off to the public, since then it has become a new icon of Heliopolis, subject to ongoing renovations, including new lighting that provides a wonderful view from Orouba street.
After the 25 January Revolution, the palace was neglected again, and its lights went off until 2014, when Philips donated its expertise to lighting the palace with its newest LED technology, promising more sustainable energy use and a fitting aesthetic appeal.
“The lighting up of the Baron Palace creates an almost mythical atmosphere around the palace that brings history to life,” said Tamer Abol Ghar, CEO of Philips Egypt. “Philips is very proud to have placed its know-how and technology at the service of this iconic monument. For us the challenge was to devise effective lighting while respecting the authenticity of this monument. The lighting really had to enhance the beauty of the site without at any time overwhelm it. We are very proud of the final result and hope it will improve the touristic value of the Palace,”
Philips said its new LED lighting scheme can be changed in intensity and colour. It will last up to 50,000 hours, compared to 12,000 with conventional lighting. Maintenance costs will be reduced and energy consumption will be cut by 80%.
Philip’s illumination of the site is part of its 5th Cairo to Cape Town road show, where the company will be providing other lighting solutions for famous sites across the continent. Other monuments lighted by Philips in Egypt include the Pyramids and Sphinx of Giza, the Cairo Tower and the Nile West Bank in Luxor.
The annual road show started 14 April, will last until 3 September and will take place in seven countries and ten cities. Its main focus is the need for energy-efficient lighting in Africa and the revitalisation of African healthcare. Philips will illuminate an iconic monument in every city visited during the road show, with the next city being Algiers and the second Casablanca.
Cairenes can only hope that the illumination of the Baron Palace will encourage the government to finally complete renovating the site and take advantage of its unique architectural style to bring attention to one of the city’s biggest neighbourhoods.