The saga of Baron Palace: Restoration of historic Cairo landmark sparks criticism

Authorities have dismissed outcry over work on the 20th-century site as 'fake news'

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Egyptian authorities have defended renovation works at a historic Cairo palace after the site's new look sparked criticism on social media.

The site, dubbed the Baron Palace, was built between 1907 and 1911 by wealthy Belgian industrialist Edouard Empain.

The baron also spearheaded the development of the surrounding upmarket neighbourhood of Heliopolis.

Scroll through the gallery above to see more images from the restoration of the Baron Palace.

Built in a style reminiscent of the Cambodian Hindu temple of Angkor Wat, the striking building set amid lush gardens has long since fallen into disrepair. However, work to restore the building has sparked outcry.

Many have taken issue with white marble additions to the building's rosy pink stone exterior, saying the materials are of poor quality and not in keeping with the original style.

An Egyptian archaeologist works on restoring relief sculptures at the Baron Empain Palace, "Qasr el Baron" or The Hindu Palace, built in the 20th century by a Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, also known as Baron Empain, in the Cairo's suburb Heliopolis, Egypt August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
An Egyptian archaeologist works on restoring relief sculptures at the Baron Empain Palace. Reuters

One Twitter user asked: "Who is the fool behind the restoration of Egypt's palaces? Our heritage is being systematically destroyed."

A Facebook page called Egyptian Historians chided officials for the "warped" restoration. "Be honest with yourselves and admit that you ruined it ... you are literally demolishing our monuments," a post on the group's page said.

Antiquities Minister Khaled El-Enany dismissed online criticisms as "fake news".

"I didn't hear one word of truth in all these social media comments," he said in a statement.

His ministry said the colours of the palace had faded from weather damage over many years.

"The restoration is a real dream and we will breathe life into this abandoned landmark," Enany added.

General Hisham Samir, who heads up the ministry's engineering branch, said the colours were "correct and are backed up by historical sources".

The works began in July 2017 in co-operation with the Belgian government and will cost 100 million Egyptian pounds (Dh22.1 million), the statement added.

The work is expected to be completed the end of the year, Samir said, with plans to open the building to the public by early 2020.

The government has recently launched various restoration projects to stimulate tourism, a key sector that has suffered in recent years due to political insecurity and sporadic terrorist attacks.