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Cairo, July 2, 2020
Cairo's Baron Palace, which has the shape of a Hindu temple and a luxurious interior, has opened to the public as a museum after decades of inexplicable neglect.
The restoration of the site, which was built in the early 20th century and comprises a main building and a tower, began three years ago, reports Efe news.
With decorations inspired by elements of Khmer or Cambodian architecture, experts started renovation work in 2017.
The palace was damaged despite having a concrete skeleton, something unusual when it was built between 1907 and 1911.
French architect Alexandre Marcel, who rose to fame for his designs in the 1900 Paris Exposition, designed the two-storey palace.
It has a large terrace adorned with statues and shrines that can be accessed through a steep wooden spiral staircase, which has also been restored.
The palace served as the residence of Belgian Baron Edouard Empain, who decided in 1906 to build the Heliopolis neighbourhood on 2,500 hectares of desert, away from central Cairo.
The planning of the neighbourhood was European but had a more oriental architectural style in which Islamic and Asian elements are mixed.
It was in 1954 - when Empain's grandchildren decided to sell it - that the neglect began, coinciding with the downward spiral of the neighbourhood after Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power.
Nasser ended the cosmopolitan environment of the capital and expropriated Cairo's foreign communities.
The palace, considered as national patrimony since 1993, became a state property in 2005 but it remained closed and neglected.
It took the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities years to implement a restoration plan, which began in mid-2017 and cost more than $10 million, head of museums Momen Mohamed Othman told Efe new on Tuesday.
Its inauguration amid the COVID-19 pandemic highlights Egyptians' ability to work to preserve their heritage in the toughest moments while following the precautionary measures, he said.
Visitors will have to wear masks inside the building and maintain safe distance, especially at the majestic stairs and terrace.