Take a walk down Champollion Street and you will come across a magnificent Belle Epoque palace in a very sad state of decay. Broken windows and blackened façade, yet you can still see the beauty of the architecture and be able to imagine the palace during its glory days.
The palace was designed in 1899 by Antonio Lasciac for Prince Said Halim Pacha. Years later, the palace was converted in Nasriya School, considered one of the best in Cairo.
A derelict, spectacularly run-down 19th-century edifice, Prince Said Halim's Palace on Champollion Street, downtown Cairo, otherwise (and wrongly) known as Champollion House, is a bleak shadow of its former, awe-inspiring self. Even now there is plenty of evidence of grandeur: classical arches, Baroque overlays, the prince's initials (SH) alternating with angels and the Ottoman logo on the surface of the pillars.
Halim was obsessed with Rome -- the city in which, ironically, he would eventually be assassinated by Arshavir Shiragian, an American agent, in December 1921. It was only natural that he should commission Antonio Lasciac, the Italian who designed, among other regal downtown buildings, the palace of Princess Neamat Kamaleddin and the headquarters of Bank Misr, to build his Cairo residence in 1896. In line with the extravagant tastes of the house of Mohamed Ali, materials were imported all the way from Italy. And despite his wife's preference for the Bosporus, where she eventually died, Halim spent much time in this, the envy of his blue-blooded cousins.
The palace was confiscated by the British in the wake of WWI, in which Halim had sided with the Ottomans, and later transformed into Al-Nassiriyah secondary school for boys -- many a deputy and cabinet minister would receive their education there -- before the latter's gardens, once the site of marble fountains and unique species of tree, were cordoned off and occupied by apartment buildings. It was then, too, that the street was named after Champollion and the rumour spread that the Egyptologist was living there while he deciphered the Rosetta Stone, unlocking a limitless cache of ancient mystery. Early in 2000, the palace was finally included in the register of the Institut Francais d'Archaeologie Orientale, which seeks to document all monuments.
(Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM Hebdo)