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Heliopolis: the land of history and architecture

Heliopolis: the land of history and architecture

mixed use buildings - Photo courtesy:

What’s better than a lovely afternoon stroll down the street while enjoying the beauty of good architecture? That’s what you get to feel while strolling down Al Korba street. Heliopolis architecture and its old buildings tell the story of great history. ­

Originally, the name “Al Korba” comes from the name “La Courbet” which is Italian for “the bow”. This is because of its rotated design that differs from other streets at that time. Let us get a closer look on Heliopolis architecture and some of its famous buildings.

Heliopolis Architectural style

Heliopolis architecture has its special features and details. These mainly include large terraces and balconies that are supported by columns and pillars. Besides galleries with colonnades.

Street colonnade in Heliopolis - Photo courtesy: Worldacrchitecture.org
Street colonnade in Heliopolis - Photo courtesy: Worldacrchitecture.org

Heliopolis architectural style developed in the early 20th-century. At that time, the Belgian Cairo Electric Railways and Heliopolis Oases Company created this style to distinguish Heliopolis buildings. Heliopolis style characteristics are mainly about revival of the of Moorish, traditional Arabic, Persian, and European Neoclassical architecture styles.

European Influence with oriental touch

Clearly there is a great European influence on Heliopolis design. This appears in the large avenues and palaces that resemble the boulevards in Western Europe. Moreover, Art Deco style inspired the buildings’ decorations. The French architects Alexandre Marcel and Georges-Louis Claude designed most of Heliopolis buildings. This is along with the Arab architect Habib Ayrout. Therefore, we can see elements from the Arabic Islamic style.

Heliopolis Architecture Photo courtesy: cairo observer
Terrace from Heliopolis palace Hotel - Photo courtesy: cairo observer

Furthermore, many buildings in Heliopolis belong to neoclassic style. From the characteristics of neoclassical architecture is the grand scale of the buildings, along with the simplicity of geometric forms. We can also notice Greek doric detailing in columns. This is while having Arabic details in the façade to give a full sense of the neo Islamic

old streets- Photo courtesy: Heliopolis Heritage Initiative
The old streets of Heliopolis - Photo courtesy: Heliopolis Heritage Initiative

Heliopolis palace hotel – El Etehadeya palace

One of Heliopolis landmarks is Etehadeya Presidential Palace behind the Heliopolis Club. Originally, the palace was a Hotel back in the day. Belgian architect, Ernest Jaspa, designed The Grand Heliopolis Palace Hotel in 1910. It was considered Africa’s most luxurious hotel at the time.

Old photo of Grand Heliopolis palace - Photo courtesy: grandhotelsegypt.com
Old photo of Grand Heliopolis palace - Photo courtesy: grandhotelsegypt.com
Photo courtesy: cairoobserver
Floor plan of Heliopolis palace hotel - Photo courtesy: cairoobserver

Heliopolis style was clear in the Palace Hotel’s exterior and interior design. The hotel had 400 rooms, including 55 private apartments. Besides, the central hall’s dome is around 55 metres from floor to ceiling. Also, twenty-two Italian marble columns circled the parquet floor up to the ceilings

Baron Empian Palace

The most prominent landmark of Heliopolis that comes to your mind whenever someone mentions the place. The picturesque mansion has captured the hearts of the many over the years. What’s so special about Baron palace is its Indian style. Basically, the palace had another name which is La Palais Hindou.

Heliopolis architecture Baron Palace in Heliopolis - Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
Baron Palace in Heliopolis - Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The French architect Alexandre Marcel designed the exterior while Georges Claude was responsible for the interior decorations. It took inspiration from the Hindu temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Significantly, the building has oriental elements and is a good example of modern using of concrete. The Egyptian government has owned the place since 2005. Recently Baron palace went through renovation with the intention to turn the palace to a museum. The renovation was greatly controversial among locals. You can read more about it here.

Renovation in Baron Palace - Photo courtesy: @BaronPalace
Renovation in Baron Palace - Photo courtesy: @BaronPalace

Basilica church of Heliopolis

Baron Edouard Empain built this church in 1910. Interestingly enough, the church aligns with his own Baron palace. There is also a belief that there’s a tunnel connecting both buildings together. According to his will, Baron Empian was buried in this church. Besides its historical and spiritual value, the church has special architectural details. Uniquely the combination of Byzantine and Egyptian influences appear in the most beautiful way.

Old photograph of Basilica church - Photo courtesy: Heliopolis Heritage Initiative
Old photograph of Basilica church - Photo courtesy: Heliopolis Heritage Initiative
Heliopolis Architecture Basilica church of Heliopolis - wikimedia-org
Basilica church of Heliopolis - wikimedia-org

More from Heliopolis architecture

There were many buildings that had classical modern style and expressed Heliopolis architecture style. Among the famous architects at that time were Charles Habib Ayrout. He was famous for his Belle Epoque/Art Déco style.  His father was Habib Ayrout, the Syro-Lebanese Egyptian architect and contractor. Charles had two brothers, Henry Habib Ayrout and Max Ayrout.

Villa designed by Henri Ayrout the leading contractor - Photo courtesy: Egy.com
Villa designed by Henri Ayrout the leading contractor of Heliopolis - Photo courtesy: Egy.com
Villa for Mme Valadji by architect Charles Ayrout 1938-39 - Photo courtesy: cairo observer
Villa for Mme Valadji in Heliopolis by architect Charles Ayrout 1938-39 - Photo courtesy: cairo observer

Current situation in Heliopolis

Many villas were demolished for the sake of new buildings. Currently the ground floor of the historical buildings has turned into commercial stores. Also, there are a lot of business owners renting apartments as offices and even art galleries. Meanwhile, there are efforts to renovate and preserve historical palaces and churches in order to keep the identity of Heliopolis as we know it.

Examples of typical pre-WW1 buildings inspired by Moghul (Rajastan, India) architecture - Photo courtesy: Egy.com
Examples of typical pre-WW1 Heliopolis buildings inspired by Moghul (Rajastan, India) architecture - Photo courtesy: Egy.com

An architect who’s passionate about movies, design, and advertising. Living for the art of storytelling in different ways, and always seeking to write inspiring stories about good things in the world.

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