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Canal & The Society

The Suez Canal ’s role is not confined to servicing the world trade. It goes beyond that to serve the Canal Zone community ...

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Canal History

Historical Outline:

  • Egypt was the first country to dig a man-made canal across its lands to connect the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea via the branches of the River Nile. The first who dug it was Senausert III, Pharaoh of Egypt (1874 B.C.). This canal was abandoned to silting and reopened several times as follows:

- Canal of Sity I 1310 B.C.
- Canal of Nkhaw 610 B.C.
- Canal of Darius I 510 B.C.
- Canal of Ptolemy II 285 B.C.
- Canal of The Romans 117 A.C.
- Canal of Amir El-Moemeneen 640 A.D.

  • The Suez Canal is actually the first canal that directly links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
  • It was opened for navigation on the 17 th of November 1869.
  • Egypt nationalized the canal on the 26 th of July 1956.
  • The Canal was closed five times; the last time was the most serious one since it lasted for 8 years. The Canal was then reopened for navigation on the 5 th of June 1975.

Suez Canal History:

It is recorded that Egypt was the first country to dig a canal across its land with a view to activate world trade.
The Suez Canal is considered to be the shortest link between the east and the west due to its unique geographic location; it is an important international navigation canal linking between the Mediterranean sea at Port said and the red sea at Suez. The idea of linking the Mediterranean sea with the red sea by a canal dates back to 40 centuries as it was pointed out through history starting by the pharaohs era passing by the Islamic era until it was dredged reaching its current condition today.

It is considered to be the first artificial canal to be used in Travel and Trade. The Whole Idea of establishing a canal linking between the red sea and the Mediterranean dates back to the oldest times, as Egypt dredged the first artificial canal on the planet’s surface. The pharaohs dredged a canal link in between river Nile and the red sea.

 

The inscriptions in the tomb of Weni the Elder, who lived during the 6th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom (c. 2407-2260 BC) tell us a lot about Egyptian canal building and the reasons for building them - (for war ships and for transporting monument stone). Scholars are still debating, however, whether his waterways ran all the way from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

 

The first canal was dug under the reign of Senausret III, Pharao of Egypt (1887-1849 BC) linking the Mediterranean Sea in the north with the Red sea in the south via the river Nile and its branches.

The Canal often abandoned to silting and was successfully reopened to navigation by Sity I (1310 BC), Necho II (610 BC), Persian King Darius (522 BC), Polemy II (285 BC), Emperor Trajan (117 AD) and Amro Ibn Elass (640 AD), following the Islamic conquest.

 

Under Necho II , a canal was built between the Pelusian branch of the Nile and the northern end of the Bitter Lakes (which lies between the two seas) at a cost of, reportedly, 100,000 lives. However, over many years, the canal fell into disrepair, only to be extended, abandoned, and rebuilt again.

 

Necho was the first who attempted the channel leading to the Erythraian Sea (Red sea and Gulf of Suez which was extended to near by Ismailia city), which Dareios the Persian afterwards completed: the length of this is a voyage of four days, and in breadth it was so dug that two triremes could go side by side driven by oars; and the water is brought into it from the Nile. The channel is conducted a little above the city of Bubastis (near by Zagazig city) by Patumos the Arabian city (Near by Ismailia city), and runs into the Erythraian Sea: and it is dug first along those parts of the plain of Egypt which lie towards Arabia (Eastern desert), just above which run the mountains which extend opposite Memphis (south of Cairo), where are the stone-quarries,--along the base of these mountains the channel is conducted from West to East for a great way; and after that it is directed towards a break in the hills and tends from these mountains towards the noon-day and the South Wind to the Arabian gulf (Gulf of Suez). Now in the place where the journey is least and shortest from the Northern to the Southern Sea (which is also called Erythraian), that is from Mount Casion (east of Port Said), which is the boundary between Egypt and Syria, the distance is exactly a thousand furlongs (1 furlongs equals about 200 meter) to the Arabian gulf; but the channel is much longer, since it is more winding; and in the reign of Necos there perished while digging it twelve myriads of the Egyptians. Now Necos ceased in the midst of his digging, because the utterance of an Oracle impeded him, which was to the effect that he was working for the Barbarian: and the Egyptians call all men Barbarians who do not agree with them in speech.

 

After having been neglected, it was rebuilt by the Persian ruler, Darius I (522-486 BC), whose canal can still be seen along the Wadi Tumilat. According to Herodotus, his canal was wide enough that two triremes could pass each other with oars extended, and that it took four days to navigate. He commemorated the completion of his canal with a series of granite stelae set up along the Nile bank.

 

This canal is said to have been extended to the Red Sea by Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BC), abandoned during the early Roman rule, but rebuilt again by Trajan (98-117 AD). Over the next several centuries, it once again was abandoned and sometimes dredged by various rulers for various but limited purposes.

 

Amro Ibn Elass rebuilt the canal after the Islamic takeover of Egypt linking the Nile to the Red Sea creating a new supply line from Cairo . It was used for shipping grain to Arabia and to transport the pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The canal was stopped up in 767 AD by the Abbasid caliph El-Mansur to cut off supplies to insurgents located in the Delta and to starve out rebels in Medina.

 

In modern times the Suez Canal is actually the first canal directly linking the Mediterranean to the Red sea.

The first efforts to build a modern canal came from the Egypt expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte, who hoped the project would create a devastating trade problem for the English. Though this project was begun in 1799 by Charles Le Pere, a miscalculation estimated that the levels between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea were too great (estimating that the Red Sea was some ten meters higher than that of the Mediterranean Sea) and work was quickly suspended.

 

Napoleon was told that the Red Sea was 30 feet higher than the Mediterranean. Dig a canal, his surveyors said, and the Red Sea will hemorrhage into the Mediterranean.  

Napoleon's engineers also considered the idea of a canal running directly between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, but they miscalculated a difference of ten meters between the two sea levels and gave up the idea, and it would sweep away the Nile Delta.

 

Then, in 1833, a group of French intellectuals known as the Saint-Simoniens arrived in Cairo and they became very interested in the Suez project despite such problems as the difference in sea levels. Unfortunately, at that time Mohammed Ali had little interest in the project, and in 1835, the Saint-Simoniens were devastated by a plague epidemic. Most of the twenty or so engineers returned to France. They did leave behind several enthusiasts for the canal, including Ferdinand de Lesseps (who was then the French vice-consul in Alexandria) and Linant de Bellefonds

 

In Paris, the Saint-Simoniens created an association in 1846 to study the possibility of the Suez Canal once again. In 1847, Bourdaloue confirmed that there was no real difference in the levels between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and it was Linant de Bellefonds that drew up the technical report. Unfortunately, there was considerable British opposition to the project, and Mohammed Ali, who was ill by this time, was less than enthusiastic.
 
In 1854 the French diplomat and engineer Vicomte Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps succeeded in enlisting the interest of the Egyptian viceroy Said Pasha in the project.
In 1858 La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez (Universal Company of the Maritime Suez Canal) was formed with authority to cut a canal and to operate it for 99 years, after which ownership would return to the Egyptian government. The company was originally a private Egyptian concern, its stock owned chiefly by French and Egyptian interests. In 1875 the British government purchased Egypt's shares.

 

The pilot study estimated that a total of 2,613 million cubic feet of earth would have to be moved, including 600 million on land, and another 2,013 million dredged from water. The total original cost estimate was 200 million francs.

 

When at first the company ran into financial problems, it was Pasha Said who purchased 44 percent of the company to keep it in operation. However, the British and Turks were concerned with the venture and managed to have work suspended for a short time, until the intervention of Napoleon III. Excavation of the canal actually began on April 25th, 1859, and between then and 1862, the first part of the canal was completed. However, after Ismail succeeded Pasha Said in 1863, the work was again suspended. After Ferdinand De Lesseps again appealed to Napoleon III, an international commission was formed in March of 1864. The commission resolved the problems and within three years, the canal was completed. On November 17, 1869 the barrage of the Suez plains reservoir was breached and waters of the Mediterranean flowed into the Red Sea and the canal was opened for international navigation.

Completion of the 160- kilometer long waterway, however, took ten years of excruciating and poorly compensated labor by Egyptian workers, who were drafted at the rate of 20,000 every ten months from the ranks of the peasantry.

 

The completion of the Suez Canal was a cause for considerable celebration. In Port Said , the extravaganza began with fireworks and a ball attended by six thousand people. They included many heads of state, including the Empress Eugenie, the Emperor of Austria, the Prince of Wales, the Prince of Prussia and the Prince of the Netherlands. Two convoys of ships entered the canal from its southern and northern points and met at Ismailia. Parties continued for weeks, and the celebration also marked the opening of Ismail's old Opera House in Cairo , which is now gone.

 

Because of external debts, the British government purchased the shares owned by Egyptian interests, namely those of Said Pasha, in 1875, for some 400,000 pounds sterling. Yet France continued to have a majority interest. Under the terms of an international convention signed in 1888 (The Convention of Constantinople), the canal was opened to vessels of all nations without discrimination, in peace and war. Nevertheless, Britain considered the canal vital to the maintenance of its maritime power and colonial interests. Therefore, the provisions of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 allowed Britain to maintain a defensive force along the Suez Canal Zone. However, Egyptian nationalists demanded repeatedly that Britain evacuate the Suez Canal Zone, and in 1954 the two countries signed a seven-year agreement that superseded the 1936 treaty and provided for the gradual withdrawal of all British troops from the zone.

 

The canal remained under the control of two powers until Nasser nationalized it in 1956; it has since been operated by the Suez Canal Authority .

 

The canal was closed to navigation twice in the contemporary period. The first closure was brief, coming after the tripartite British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, an invasion primarily motivated by the nationalization of the waterway. The canal was reopened in 1957. The second closure occurred after the June 1967 War with Israel and lasted until 1975, when Egypt and Israel signed the second disengagement accord.

After July 1952 Revolution, president Gamal Abd El Naser publicized the canal in announcement in (26 July, 1956) making the management of the canal a 100% Egyptian, which enraged the major countries leading to the Triad assault on Egypt in (29 October, 1956) which caused to the closing of the canal and it was reopened in (march 1957).

 


Canal History
13th century BCE

13th century BCE, A canal is constructed between the Nile Delta and the Red Sea. For the following centuries, the canal was only partially maintained...

1854

1854, By a French initiative, the viceroy of Egypt, Said Pasha, decides for a project to build a canal from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea...

1858

1858, La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez is formed to construct the canal.

17 Nov 1869

17 Nov 1869, With great splendour, the canal is opened for navigation. Dimensions were 22 metre in bottom width, 58 metre in surface width, and a depth of 8 metres...

2 Mar 1888

2 Mar 1888, The Convention of Constantinople guaranteed right of passage of all ships through the Suez Canal during war and peace...

13 Jun 1956

13 Jun 1956, Suez Canal Zone restored to Egypt.
26 Jul 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal.

5 Jun 1975

5 Jun 1975, Suez Canal reopened...

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Egypt Gate

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Tourism Information

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