Suez (El-Suweis) is located on the Southern tip of the Suez Canal, and has been a commercial port since the 7th century. The spice trade and pilgrimages to Mecca made it prosperous throughout the Middle Ages. It became a naval base in the 15th century and, in 1869, the opening of the Suez Canal ensured its development as a modern city. Today, Suez is one of Egypt's largest ports. It is situated near the scenic Ataga Hills (Jebel Ataga), about 134 kilometers (83 miles) from Cairo and 88 kilometers (55 miles) from Ismailia, this city affords an excellent view of Sinai and the Red Sea. It is also interesting to watch ships passing through the Canal form Suez's vantage point.
The Suez Canal
There seems to have always been interest in a link between the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Most of the early efforts were directed towards a link from the Nile to the Red Sea. Strabo and Pliny record that the earliest effort was directed by Senwosret I, but no evidence that there was an actual canal built exists. Under Necho II (610-595 BC) a canal was built between the Pelusian branch of the Nile and the northern end of the Bitter Lakes (which lie between the two seas) as a cost of, reportedly, 100,000 lives. Over many years, the canal fell into disrepair, only to be extended, abandoned, and rebuilt again. After having been neglected, it was rebuilt by the Prusian ruler, Darius I (522-486 BC), who's canal can still be seen along the Wadi Tumilat. It was 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 vari ous but limited purposes. Amr Ibn el-As rebuilt the canal after the Islamic takeover of Egypt creating a new supply line from Cairo, but in 767 AD, the Abbasid caliph El-Mansur closed the canal a final time to cut off supplies to insurgents located in the Delta.
The famous Canal is one of the greatest engineering feats of modern record. 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 two hundred million francs. The canal stretches over 100 miles from Port Said and the Mediterranean Sea to Suez and the Red Sea and, along with other such projects, changed the face of maritime world trade
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 and work was quickly suspended.
However, in 1833, a group of French intellectuals known as the Saint-Simoniens arrived in Cairo and were 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 and 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.
Work finally began on the canal in 1859 near Port Said. Pasha Said was very open to European influence, and in fact, was a childhood friend of Ferdinand De Lesseps, who founded the Universal Company of the Suez ( and built the Canal). After the company ran into financial problems, it was also 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. Between 1860 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.
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. Unfortunately between the Suez Crisis and later wars, the canal was damaged extensively and was not operated for several year after 1967. However, on June 5th, 1975, the canal was again opened, and since then has been updated and enlarged.