11 January 2009
When Khedive Ismaïl became ruler he sent a medical team to find out what they could about the site and to analyse the water coming from the sulphur springs. The team found that the water was beneficial for healing skin and venereal diseases.
In this favoured spot, with its
Soon Helwan was a spa for the wealthy and a popular vacation spot. In 1878 only 25 houses were built near that spa, but gradually more people came to settle there. In 1885 Khedive Ismaïl built a winter palace in Helwan, and after that members of the aristocratic Turkish class built luxurious villas nearby. According to statistics, around 1,000 people visited Helwan sulphur springs in 1887, nearly 30 persons daily.
It was due to two Egyptian brothers—the Sawiris Brothers who owned the Egyptian Hotels Company—that several coffee shops and hotels were established in Helwan. The Sawirises—no relation to the present Sawiris tycoons—obtained a licence from Khedive Ismail to renovate the spa buildings and establish separate spas for men and women. In 1922 Helwan was considered a town in its own right, with 25 streets and three squares. On the northwestern side of the town lies the National Institute for Astronomy and the Weather Phenomena Station.
The rapid industrial development of the town and surrounding area in recent years has, alas, largely destroyed the image of the fashionable international spa of the turn of the century. The pattern of the area is now set by its large factories for aircraft and automobile assembly, factories producing cement, lime and fertilisers, a large power station, and steelworks using iron brought by rail from open cast mines in Bahariya Oasis, all of which serve to pollute Helwan to a critical level. Helwan nevertheless still manages to attract a considerable number of visitors who come to see the Grand Hotel, Tawfiq’s palace, the Japanese garden and the wax museum. On 17 April 2008 Helwan was granted the honour of becoming an independent governorate and has set into motion a plan to revive the spa to its older splendour.