One of the most enchanting names from world history, Heliopolis was one of the original cities of ancient Egypt. Inhabited for over 5,000 years, Heliopolis is now a part of modern Cairo, north-east of the city centre. Although most of the city’s antiquated remains are hidden beneath the ground, Heliopolis still has a number of inspiring ancient buildings, including the towering Al-Masalla obelisk, a 21-metre red granite structure that weighs 120 tonnes and still stands in its original position.
Modern day Heliopolis is one of Cairo’s wealthiest suburbs, full of upmarket villas and broad boulevards. The area centres on Korba, where Andalusian architecture provides a marked contrast to the obelisk. Among the attractions is the Basilica of Notre Dame and the Baron Empain Palace, an unusual structure inspired by the Khmer temples of Angkor Wat. Uruba Palace isn’t open to the public but hints at the wealth of Heliopolis. Boasting a synthesis of styles, it was once a hotel and is now the official residence of the Egyptian president.
The ancient city is connected to central Cairo by a tram system from Ramses Station. A few kilometres to the north is Cairo International Airport, and Heliopolis has an ideal location for early morning flight departures. Most visitors use private taxis to get around the local area.
Heliopolis was where the god Atum was worshipped, but the city fell into decline when Persians took over Egypt some 2,500 years. Many of the old structures were taken down and used to build medieval Cairo, however, it’s estimated that a whole city is buried 15-20 metres below the ground. Archaeologists have unearthed some fascinating tombs, mere hints at the treasure that exists.