Long History of Canals in Egypt Linking Europe and Asia

Posted by Eric Haun
Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Egypt said on Tuesday it plans to build a new Suez Canal alongside the existing 145-year-old historic waterway in a multi-billion dollar project aimed at expanding trade along the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

Here is a brief history:

  •  The first canal connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas via the Nile River was dug in 1874 B.C. during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Senausret III. It was abandoned and reopened several times over the subsequent 2,500 years.
  •  Pharonic inscriptions showed that Egyptians used the canals to move warships, send pilgrimages to the Holy Land and transport grain and stones used in ancient monuments.
  •  Napoleon sought to build a modern canal in order to undermine Britain's control of trading routes to Asia, but he abandoned the project after engineers wrongly determined that a difference in water levels would cause the Mediterranean to be inundated.
  •  French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps and Egyptian viceroy Said Pasha developed the current Suez Canal in the mid-19th century. French and Egyptian private interests controlled the company entrusted with building and running the canal, though Britain later acquired Egypt's share.
  •  Completion of the 163-kilometre (101 mile) waterway took 10 years of intense and generally poorly-paid work by Egyptians who were drafted at the rate of 20,000 every 10 months from "the peasantry."
  •  The canal, which was opened for navigation on Nov. 17, 1869, cut weeks if not months off journeys between Europe and Asia that otherwise necessitated a trip around Africa. Numerous heads of state visited Egypt for weeks of celebrations.
  •  In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the canal, leading to a failed invasion by Britain, which controlled the channel, as well as France and Israel. The waterway was closed briefly until 1957 and the again for eight years following the 1967 war with Israel.
  •  President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on Tuesday that Egypt would build a new channel as part of a larger project to expand port and shipping facilities around the canal in an effort to establish Egypt as a major trade hub.

Primary Source: Suez Canal Authority

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