One of the biggest and most varied districts in Cairo, Heliopolis never disappoints. Here's what keeps us coming back...
Before adding the prefix 'new' to every development project became a trend, there was Misr El Gedida (New Egypt). Known also as Heliopolis, which, from Ancient Greek, translates to 'the city of sun' the was established in 1905 by the Heliopolis Oasis Company. Misr El Gedida was built and designed by the Belgian industrialist Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Empain, as well as Boghos Nubar, son of the Egyptian Prime Minister Nubar Pasha. Since that time Heliopolis, has become home to millions flooding the streets with more traffic than ever designed to handle. Nevertheless it still has plenty of architectural marvels and sights that make living there worthwhile.
Basilica of Heliopolis
Edouard Empain laid the first bricks at the Basilica of Heliopolis or the Basilica of the Virgin Mary (l'Eglise Notre Dame d'Héliopolis) in November 1910. Since then this church has become a beloved landmark in the region and was one of the first churches in Egypt to have a pipe organ installed, despite the fact that the pipe organ was invented in Alexandria by Ctesibius of Alexandrea, musician and engineer in 200 BC.
With Heliopolis destined to be a vast hot spot suburb of Cairo, a tram network was established in 1910. At the time it was iconic and attracted many to the district for its clean and affordable public transportation. Since then the tram has been neglected, seeing tougher times. With traffic becoming an issue these trams seem destined to go extinct as Egyptian eyes expanding its underground metro lines.
There wouldn’t be a Heliopolis without Korba. Built by Misr El Gedida's pioneers, Korba showcases a unique market places internationally known for its unique designs. What was once the sanctuary for the wealthy is now home to many classes who all enjoy taking a promenade through this beautiful block. In the car culture that is Cairo Korba remains one of the nicer outdoor places to take a walk, shop, dine and spend hours pouring over a coffee.
Considering that Korba was built by foreigners there was no better way to end a hard day of telling Egyptians to work then by enjoying a cold beer. Historically known as El-Shamma3, this iconic Korba has been selling beer since the establishment of the area. Known now as Bazar Sakara, this little shop continues to quench thirsts of the many in the neighbourhood.
Since it is the season, consider heading to Korba as there are plenty of shops to help bring the Christmas spirit to your home. Enjoy shopping at multiple shops for Christmas gifts and with diverse decorations, proving to your peers that you didn’t just go to Ikea and buy the same things everyone else has.
Egypt wins a soccer game: Heliopolites celebrate under the Marghany bridge. Country going up in flames? Heliopolites will express their anger under the Marghany bridge. Nothing going on? Heliopolites will smoke then drift their cars under the Marghany bridge.
Forget Misr El-Gedida, Ela‘elat is known all over Cairo and probably the whole of Egypt. Priding themselves on making the freshest juice in the area, Ela’elat is notoriously known to make the best in juice Cairo period. Everyday, someone from Giza or Maadi travels hours just for a sip of their sweet, sweet nectar.
Although it is new to the area, The Garden is reponsible for bringing fresh excitement to Korba's nightlife scene. With its sprawling gardern, memorable decor, and bountiful menu, The Garden is arguably one of hottest places to go these days, and have given people from all over Cairo a reason to party.
Baron Empain Palace (Qasr el Baron)
Taking inspiration from Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and the Hindu temples of Orissa, Qasr el Baron was built by French architect Alexandre Marcel for Baron Empain, one of the pioneers of Heliopolis. Completed in 1911, the Baron Palace is definitely the most recognised landmark and, although it has seen better days, is being restored to former glory and will begin hosting events in the near future.
A meeting point for dignitaries, royalty and the business people who make all the big decisions, Rossini has been one of the most exclusive dining destinations in Cairo - so exclusive you might not ever have set foot in there. Established in 1993, the gourmet, fine dining restaurant specialises in seafood and it's fully-stocked bar is the scene for many a big deal.
Photography (excluding image from Rossini above) by Mahmoud Asfour.