The new city also represented the first large scale attempt to promote what later came to be called the "modern Arab style", known in its own day as the "Moorish style". However, for his own extravagant house, that was build between 1907 and 1910 and overlooks the town, he chose an architectural style that was very different.
For his own home he chose a prestigious location in Heliopolis and ordered Alexander Marcel, a French architect
and a member of the prestigious French Institute, to build him a Hindu palace. Some say it was supposed to be more or less a copy of the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia that he had seen during his travels in that country, while others say it is modeled on the fabulous Hindu temples of Orissa.
Empain brought the best Indonesian artists and sculptors for its construction. They built it on an artificial elevation to enable the Baron to watch the rising of Heliopolis. The palaces striking exterior was the responsibility of Marcel, who reproduced a motley of busts, statues, elephants, snakes, Buddha's, shivers and Krishna's. The sophisticated interior was the responsibility of his French associate, Georges-Louis Claude. This team was also responsible for the construction and decoration of the Oriental Pavilion attached to the Royal Palace of Laeken in Belgium.
The Palace was, of course, built in a very select neighborhood. Amongst other lofty neighbors, to his left facing Avenue Baron was the Arabesque palace, which is now military Headquarters, but which originally was the home of Boghos and Marie Nubar Pasha. It was the pasha who assisted Baron Empain in purchasing the 6,000 acres of empty desert at one pound each on which he built Heliopolis. Diagonally opposite stand the former residence of Sultan Hussein Kamel, who reigned over Egypt between 1914 and 1917. Today, that is a presidential guest house.
Since visitors are not allowed into the palace, not much is known about its interior today. It consists of two floors with two additional subterranean floors. The underground floors contain a family mausoleum, a kitchen and the servant's room. There are two elevators and even a tunnel that connects with the nearby church built by the Baron.
Of course, the Baron himself was the first to occupy the palace. He entertained all of Egypt's hotes de marques including King Albert and Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians during the Pre-World War I visit to Egypt. Although dwindling in numbers, there are those who still remember when the landscape surrounding the Hindu Palace was a wonderland festooned with ascending green terraces each with its own set of erotic marble statues and exotic vegetation. As guests negotiated the terraces on their way to the grand steps leading into the awesome palace foyer, they felt as though some mythical Deus was watching from the palace's interior. These theatrics pleased the Baron to no end.
Next to occupy the palace was his playboy son, Baron Jean Empain. He entertained his guests either at the Heliopolis races or at his innumerable palace balls where he cut a dashing figure with his multiple consorts. It was an American cabaret dancer Rozell Rowland a.k.a. Goldie who finally nailed him to the altar. The 'prince' and the showgirl had met in a Cairo night club where she performed painted entirely in gold. The last of the Baron's family to occupy the palace were Janine and Huguette Empain, who actually preferred the lounges of the trendy Heliopolis Sporting Club or the Roof Garden of the old Semiramis Hotel to the sepulchral halls of their grandfather's palace. The palace was finally sold off by its owners in 1957 to two families, Alexem and Reda, who were of Saudi origin.
Today the spark of the place has vanished. It has become an architectural masterpiece that produces incredible stories and rumors, but like these stories and rumors, is void of inner beauty. Gone are the Fresco murals, massive gilded doors, balustrades, parquet floors, gold plated doorknobs, and the Belgian mirrors which were wrenched from their sockets. Now it is best known for the bats which inhabit it, and desecrate the floors with their droppings.
The Egyptian government would perhaps like to turn the palace into a desert museum, or maybe a pantheon for Egypt's great. Unfortunately, they do not own the building and those who do are said to have an asking price of $50 million US. That is far more than the Supreme Council of Antiquity's annual budget. The owners talk of turning the palace into a gambling casino or even a Euro style medical center. Unfortunately for the owners, their options are limited. Law 117 forbids the selling or purchasing of buildings that are deemed to be antiquities. So for now it would seem, the Baron's Palace remains one of those landmarks that is yet to see the light of restoration.