Friday, June 29, 2007

A Desert Taj Mahal

Al Ahram Weekly By Samir Raafat
An article about the accessibility of some of Egypt's wonderful buildings, using the the Heliopolois Palace Hotel, dating 1908-10, as a case study.
Heliopolis Palace Hotel turned into the Federation of Arab Republic's headquarters, Kasr Al-Ittihadiya, in 1972 and later into an executive presidential palace during Mubarak's rule.

More than half a century after Nasser's Free Officers vowed to turn this nation into a republic "by the people and for the people", its citizenry is as removed from the temples of power as they were millennia ago when Pharaohs ruled the land and high priests prohibited access to temples. Except for a very few halls in Abdeen, few Egyptian citizens have ever seen the gilded interiors of the former royal palaces of Tahra, Koubbeh and Ras Al-Tin. And unless plans to turn them into public historic sites ever surface, there is no chance they ever will.

Not so Kasr Al-Ittihadiya, now perhaps the most august and restricted of them all. While few others than national leaders and journalists can visit it these days, there are still some around who remember having frequented it as the Heliopolis Palace Hotel. . . .

Whether by divine or temporal intervention, the Palace Hotel was granted a new lease on life. Situated within earshot of where President Mubarak lives, the former hotel was given a thorough facelift in the 1980s and declared the headquarters of the new presidential administration. Once again, the Taj Mahal of the desert became the focus of international attention. So will we lesser mortals ever get a virtual gape at its eye- popping interiors? Don't hold your breath.

See the above page for the full story, and a lovely photograph.

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