Heliopolis (Cairo suburb)

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This article is about the modern district of Heliopolis. For the ancient Egyptian city, see Heliopolis (ancient).
The reverse side of Baron Empain Palace (Qasr Al Baron), on Salah Salem, a main street in Heliopolis.

Modern Heliopolis (Arabic: مصر الجديدةMaṣr el-Gedīdah, IPA: [ˈmɑsˤɾ elɡɪˈdidæ] literally "New Egypt"; Ancient Greek: Ηλιόπολις Heliópolis, "City of Sun"), was a suburb out of Cairo, Egypt, now a part of and a district of Cairo. The settlement was established in 1905 by the Heliopolis Oasis Company, headed by the Belgian industrialist Édouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, as well as Boghos Nubar, son of the Egyptian Prime Minister Nubar Pasha.

History[edit]

Al-Gamea (The Mosque) in Al-Gamea Square, Heliopolis
Suburban avenues in Heliopolis
The domes of Saint Mark's Church, the oldest Coptic church in Heliopolis
Baron Empain Palace Gardens

The Baron Empain, a well-known amateur Egyptologist and prominent Belgian entrepreneur, arrived in Egypt in January 1904, intending to rescue one of his Belgian wife's development projects: the construction of a railway line linking Al-Matariyyah to Port Said. Despite losing the railway contract to the British, Empain stayed on in Egypt.

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. The new city represented the first large-scale attempt to promote its own architecture, known now as the Heliopolis style. It was designed as a "city of luxury and leisure", with broad avenues and equipped with all conveniences and infrastructure: water, drains, electricity, hotel facilities, such as the Heliopolis 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 designs targeting specific social classes with detached and terraced villas, apartment buildings, tenement blocks with balcony access and workers' bungalows.

Baron Empain's own residence adopted a unique south Asian architectural style. Alexander Marcel, a French architect and a member of the prestigious French Institute, was commissioned by Empain to build him a Hindu style 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, remaining one of the finest examples of early creative use of concrete, of which it was entirely built. The neighborhood had some of the wealthiest Egyptian residences; on the left facing Avenue Baron was the Arabesque palace of Boghos and Marie Nubar Pasha, now a military headquarters. The Pasha assisted Baron Empain in purchasing the 6,000 acres (24 km²) of open 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, it is a presidential guest house.

The Heliopolis War Cemetery is 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 in Port Taufiq but was relocated to Heliopolis after its destruction in 1967.

The Basilique Catholic church on 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 Islamic mosques, Christian Saint Maron and Saint-Rita church, and the Jewish Al Missalah Street synagogue, demonstrate that the city has been living in religious tolerance since it was established.

Modern Heliopolis was originally filled primarily with aristocratic Egyptians, as well as some European nationals. Unlike other modern Cairene suburbs around the start of the 20th century, Heliopolis had a significantly larger percentage of Egyptian citizen residents. After the 1952 revolution 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.

Recreational facilities[edit]

Residents of Heliopolis in front of the horse racetrack (currently the Merryland)
Heliopolis Sporting Club in 2007

Heliopolis contains recreational places, as it was initially established to offer its residents and visitors rest and relaxation. Heliopolis club is one of the most luxurious sporting clubs in Egypt. It was established along with Heliopolis in 1905. From 1911 until 1915, Heliopolis had Luna Park, Africa's first amusement park (the grounds were converted into an Australian field hospital just after the onset of World War I).

The Merryland is also a famous recreational park; it contains a lake and was at the height of its elegance in the 1960s and 70s. It now contains a small amusement park. Other sporting clubs include El Shams Club (biggest in size and number of members), Heliolido club, El-Ghaba club, El-Tayaran club and others.

Heliopolis contains modern cafes (including Harris, Starbucks, Cilantro, Costa Coffee, and Beanos) and restaurants along with some Egyptian traditional ones. Some bars and nightclubs can be found. Tens of cinemas can be found in Heliopolis and its extension, Madinet nasr (Nasr City), Normandy Cinema in Al-Ahram street, Cinema Roxy, Cinema Heliopolis along with the new cinemas in Horia Mall and City Stars, the largest shopping mall in Egypt.

Political importance[edit]

Heliopolis Palace Hotel, the front facade (now a Presidential Palace)
Heliopolis Palace Hotel, rear facade and terrace, circa 1910

Heliopolis gained a special political and military importance in Egypt and the Middle East in recent decades. The Egyptian Military headquarters and the Egyptian Air Force headquarters are there. The Almaza Military Airbase is very close to Heliopolis. The regional headquarters of some international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Red Crescent are in Heliopolis. Heliopolis was the residence of the Egyptian ex-president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak. In 1981, the site of Heliopolis Palace Hotel became the Egyptian Republican Palace (Arabic: قصر رئاسة الجمهورية‎) and the president's office.

Heliopolis was bombed by the Israeli Air Force during the Yom Kippur War, causing damage to some of its historical buildings and houses.[citation needed]

The present and the future[edit]

In contrast with its initial establishment as a quiet suburb, Heliopolis now is considered a main part of Cairo. It is home to celebrities, football players, politicians and wealthy families. The numbers of residents have doubled several times since 1922. A tram system serves Heliopolis and parts of the surrounding area, and there are future plans to integrate Heliopolis into the already existing underground system to link it to other pivotal residential areas all around Cairo. Right now, several underground stations are being constructed in some areas of Heliopolis.

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Beattie, Andrew (2005). Cairo: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press. pp. 182–187. ISBN 0-19-517893-9. 
  • Dobrowolska, Agnieszka; Jaroslaw Dobrowolski (2006). Heliopolis - Rebirth of the City of the Sun. American University in Cairo Press. ISBN 977-416-008-8. 
  • Elsheshtawy, Yasser (2004). Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope in a Globalizing World. Routledge. pp. 144–151. ISBN 0-415-30400-8. 
  • Once, We Hosted Kings, by Samir Raafat, Egypt Today, June 2005.
  • Van Loo, Anne & Bruwier, Marie-Cécile (eds.), Héliopolis, Brussels: Fonds Mercator, 2010, 229 p., richly illustrated ISBN 978-90-6153-930-8.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 30°06′N 31°20′E / 30.100°N 31.333°E / 30.100; 31.333