History and museums
The Heliopolis Palace is one of the three Egyptian presidential palaces and residences, the others being Montaza Palace and Ras el-Tin Palace, for the executive office of the President of Egypt. It is located in the suburb of Heliopolis, northeast of central Cairo and east of the Nile in Egypt. It was originally built as the grand Heliopolis Palace Hotel in 1910. Now it is for the use of the President of Egypt.
In Egypt, it is currently referred to, as Arabic: قصر رئاسة الجمهورية, Kasr Riasat Al Gomhouria, "Palace of the Presidency of the Republic"; قصر الاتحادية Kasr Al Ittihadia, "Federation Palace".
The Heliopolis Palace Hotel was built in the open desert from 1908—1910, while development of the new suburb began around it, by the Heliopolis Oases Company. It was opened as Africa's most luxurious hotel on December 1, 1910.
The landmark hotel was designed by Belgian architect Ernest Jaspar. He introduced the local Heliopolis style of architecture, a synthesis of Persian, Moorish Revival, Islamic, and European Neoclassical architecture. It was built by the contracting firms Leon Rolin & Co. and Padova, Dentamaro & Ferro, the two largest civil contractors in Egypt then. Siemens & Schuepert of Berlin fitted the hotel's web of electric cables and installations. The utilities were to the most modern standards of their day. The hotel operations were under French administered management.
The Heliopolis architectural style, responsible for many wonderful original buildings in Heliopolis, was exceptionally expressed in the Heliopolis Palace Hotel's exterior and interior design. The hotel had 400 rooms, including 55 private apartments. Beyond the Moorish Revival reception hall two public rooms were lavishly decorated in the Louis XIV and the Louis XV styles. Beyond those was the Central Hall, the primary public dining space with a classic symmetrical and elegant beauty.
The Central Hall's dome, awe inspiring to guests, measured 55 metres (180 ft) from floor to ceiling. The 589 square metres (6,340 sq ft) hall's architectural interior was designed by Alexander Marcel of the French Institute, and decorated by Georges-Louis Claude. Twenty-two Italian marble columns circled the parquet floor up to the elaborate ceilings. The hall was carpeted with fine Persian carpets and had large mirrored wall panels and a substantial marble fireplace. To one side of the Central Hal was the Grillroom seating 150 guests, and to the other was the billiards hall, with two full-sized British Thurston billiard tables and a 'priceless' French one. The private banquet halls were quite large and elaborate.
The mahogany furniture was ordered from Maple's of London. Damascus-made 'East Orient style' lamps, lanterns, and chandeliers hung throughout, suspended like stalactite pendants. The upper gallery contained oak-paneled reading and card rooms furnished by Krieger of Paris. The basement and staff areas were so large that a narrow gauge railway was installed running the length of the hotel, passing by offices, kitchens, pantries, refrigerators, storerooms and the staff mess.
Boasted as the most luxurious hotel of the time in Africa and the Middle East, and given its grand architecture, the Heliopolis Palace Hotel became a travel destination for many, including foreign royals and international business tycoons. Guests included Milton S. Hershey and King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium.
The two world wars interrupted the hotel's hospitality activities, and on both occasions the Heliopolis Palace Hotel was transformed into a British military hospital for British and Dominion soldiers.
In the 1960s the grand hotel closed. It was then used to house the offices of various government departments. In January 1972, the building became the headquarters of the Federation of Arab Republics - the short-lived political union between Egypt, Libya and Syria, which gave it the current Arabic name of قصر الاتحادية Kasr Al Ittihadianote 3 ("Federation Palace").
In the 1980s, after extensive renovation and restoration efforts, the building became an Egyptian presidential palace and the headquarters of the administration of the new president, Hosni Mubarak. Today it is perhaps one of the more restricted presidential palaces regarding access. It is surrounded by simple gardens.