Why are we talking about a canal? November 17 marks the 147th anniversary of the Suez Canal, one of the most important transit routes in history. Finished in 1869, the 163km waterway revolutionised travel, linking the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, letting cargo ships travelling between Europe and Asia to cut through Egypt, thus saving them having to circumnavigate Africa and reducing their journey by a round 8,900km. It sounds like a huge feat of engineering! It was. Inspired by an ancient Egyptian canal linking the Nile to the Red Sea, the Suez was a huge task.
It took ten years and more than 1.5 million workers to build. But it also had a big impact on world trade, prompting similar efforts around the globe (think the Panama Canal). Sadly, it made negative headlines too, and the UK, France and Israel all fought to wrestle control of it throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Yet it survived, and in 2015 the New Suez Canal opened, accommodating two-way traffic and even more ships.
Can I cruise it myself? Yes. It wasn’t built with tourists in mind but many tour operators offer Suez cruises. Sights might be in short supply but the yesteryear allure of Port Said and the lakeside city of Ismailia are highlights. The latter is a treat, with the city’s lush south side now restored to its colonial best, recalling its 1930s heyday when it housed large numbers of foreign employees of the Suez Canal Company.
How else can I pay tribute? Both Port Said and lsmailia offer insights into the canal’s past. The former is home to the Suez Canal House, built to mark the waterway’s creation, and you can even hop on a free ferry to cross the canal mouth to Port Fuad, a compelling close-up of this engineering marvel. Its history is also narrated in cities along its banks: the Suez National Museum in Suez has maps and charts detailing its early beginnings, while lsmailia Museum stores fascinating artefacts discovered during the canal’s construction.