Facelift of Cairo's Baron Palace sparks outcry

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The 20th century palace was built in a style reminiscent of the Cambodian Hindu temple Angkor Wat

The 20th century palace was built in a style reminiscent of the Cambodian Hindu temple Angkor Wat (AFP Photo/Khaled DESOUKI)

Cairo (AFP) - Egyptian authorities have defended renovation works at a historic Cairo palace after the site's new look sparked mockery 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.

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.

But 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.

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 cooperation with the Belgian government and will cost 100 million Egyptian pounds (over $6 million), the statement added.

Samir told AFP that the work is expected to be completed by year's end with plans to open the building to the public by early 2020.

Egypt's multitude of historical monuments and buildings are a major draw for tourists, though the country has often faced accusations of neglecting these sites.

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 jihadist attacks.