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Modern Heliopolis, Cairo, Egypt

May 14th, 2008 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Modern Heliopolis is a district of Cairo, Egypt. The town was established by the Heliopolis Oasis Company, headed by the Belgian industrialist Édouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, beginning in 1905. The Baron, a well known amateur Egyptologist and prominent European entrepreneur, arrived in Egypt in January 1904, intending to rescue one of his Belgian company's projects in Egypt; the construction of a railway line linking Matariya to Port Said. Despite losing the railway contract to the British, Empain stayed on in Egypt; a decision due to his love of the desert and/or relationship with Yvette Boghdadli.

In 1905, Empain established the Cairo Electric Railways and Heliopolis Oases Company, which bought a large stretch of desert some distance to the northeast of Cairo at a low price from the colonial government. His efforts culminated in 1907 with the building of the new town of Heliopolis, in the desert ten kilometers from the center of Cairo. It was designed as a "city of luxury and leisure", with broad avenues and equipped with all necessary conveniences and infrastructure; water, drains, electricity, hotel facilities, such as the Palace Hotel and Heliopolis House, and recreational amenities including a golf course, racetrack and park. In addition, there was housing for rent, offered in a range of innovative design types targeting specific social classes with detached and terraced villas, apartment buildings, tenement blocks with balcony access and workers' bungalows.

The new city also represented the first large scale attempt to promote its own style (Heliopolis style). Empain's own residence however, adopted a unique style. Alexander Marcel, a French architect and a member of the prestigious French Institute, was commissioned by Empain to build him a Hindu palace. Modelled on Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Hindu temples of Orissa, the palace was erected between 1907 and 1910. It still stands today and remains one of the finest examples of early creative use of concrete, of which it was entirely built. The chosen neighbourhood boasted some of the wealthiest Egyptian residences; to his left facing Avenue Baron was the Arabesque palace, now military headquarters, but originally the home of Boghos and Marie Nubar Pasha. It was the Pasha who assisted Baron Empain in purchasing the 6,000 acres (24 km²) of empty desert at one pound each on which he built Heliopolis. Diagonally opposite stands the former residence of Sultan Hussein Kamel, who reigned over Egypt between 1914 and 1917. Today, that is a presidential guest house.

The Heliopolis War Cemetery is located on Nabil el Wakkad street. This cemetery contains the Port Tewfik Memorial, a memorial to over 4000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who fell in the First World War, which was originally situated in Port Taufiq but was relocated to Heliopolis after its destruction in 1967.

The Basilique Catholic church situated in Al-Ahram street is a famous landmark in Heliopolis, and it is the burial place of Baron Empain. The many places of worship in the district, including Saint Maron and Saint-Rita church in Beirut street, a Jewish synagogue in Al Missalah street, and the mosques all over the city, demonstrate that the city has been living in religious tolerance since it was established.

Modern Heliopolis was originally filled mostly with foreigners and native aristocratic Egyptians. After the 1952 military coup d'état led by Nasser, it became home to much of Cairo's educated middle class. As Cairo has expanded, the once large distance between Heliopolis and Cairo has vanished and it is now well inside the city. Because of the large growth in population, the original gardens that filled the city have mostly been built over.

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