The Suez Canal is synonymous with Egypt as it lies completely within Egyptian territory. For centuries the early Egyptians had visions of joining the Nile to the Red Sea, creating a sea route between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. Early proposals included the canal construction from Suez (at the Gulf of Suez in the south) to the Great Bitter Lake as it does today but then headed in a north west direction to reach the River Nile between Cairo and the Mediterranean. Numerous attempts were made but none were ever completed. It was not until 1859 that the French started the Canal’s construction as we know it today reaching the northern port of Port Said. The first ships transited the 120 mile waterway in 1869.
The canal maintains the same water level end to end and therefore comprises no locks. When it opened, the canal was between 200 and 300 feet wide at the water’s surface and 72 feet wide at its base with a minimum depth of just 25 feet. Since its opening, constant dredging and widening has taken place to accommodate ever larger ships. The Great Bitter Lake, formerly a dry salt basin, is now used as a holding bay to allow ships to pass in opposite directions.
Such was the cost of the canal construction that it largely bankrupted Egypt. The British in particular were keen to exploit this short sea route to access India and its Empire in the Far East and so in 1875, they bought the 45% Egyptian holding and managed the canal alongside France, the other major shareholder. It proved an astute investment and it was not until 1956 that the Egyptians nationalised the waterway under President Nasser and regained full control and management of the waterway.
The featured postcard is postmarked 29 November, 1904, and includes a picture of the entrance to the canal at Port Said. Today, more than 150 years after its opening, the Suez Canal remains strategically important and carries an estimated 8% of the world’s sea trade.
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