When I saw the themes for this week’s photo challenges, Foreign (WordPress weekly challenge) and Spooky (Ailsa’s travel photo challenge), I knew exactly which photos I wanted to submit. They’ve given me the creeps since I was a child paging through my father’s war album from the Middle East. While I’d linger over photos of pyramids, camels and Arabs, I’d glance quickly at these two, shiver, and turn the page.
The Foreign theme: The photos are owned by me, an Australian, and it depicts a palace built in Egypt in Hindu-style architecture designed by a Frenchman for a Belgian, Baron Empain. The architect, Alexandre Marcel, was inspired by the temples of Orissa in India and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The palace’s sculptures of Hindu divinities, mythical creatures and erotic French maidens are so out of place in this Muslim country that they attract the attention of looters and vandals. The palace is in Heliopolis, now a suburb of Cairo, but at the time of building, between 1907 and 1911, it was a town apart, designed by the Baron out of a stretch of desert he bought from the British colonial government. The Baron is buried under the Catholic basilica in Heliopolis, also commissioned by him, which you can see in a previous post.
The Spooky theme: Where do I begin? Both the interior and exterior of this reinforced concrete structure are crumbling and graffitied. Once decorated by Georges-Louis Claude in the French style, it had frescoes, parquet floors, gilded ceilings, gold-plated doorknobs, Belgian mirrors, and a spiral staircase in a tower sitting on a revolving base. It must have been beautiful. Now it’s bare, the only inhabitants bats and stray dogs. And ghosts. Not only is the palace said to be haunted, but some say Satanic rituals are practised there and that some of the mirrors are stained with blood. The Baron’s sister died when she fell from the tower and his psychologically disturbed daughter died in one of the basement chambers.
Its dark history has kept the palace closed to the public. Since 2005 it has been owned by the Egyptian government which has made a few attempts to find restorers, but plans have always come to nothing. This year, however, the government announced a definite restoration project to transform the palace into a cultural centre…
More photos of the palace exterior in its present decrepit state can be found here.
And Ailsa’s spooky photos can be found here.