The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean and the Red seas, was opened on today's date, November 17, in 1869 in a lavish ceremony that was attended by France's Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenie. The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level (there are no locks as with the Panama Canal built later) waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. And because it greatly reduced the time of travel form Europe to the Indian Ocean, it became a major strategic prize in international politics.
Building the Suez Canal
This entire area was officially under the control or the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, so Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo completed an agreement with the Ottoman Governor of Egypt to construct a canal across the Isthmus of Suez in 1854. M. de Lesseps assembled an international team off engineering experts to come up with a plan to build the Canal and this became the Suez Canal Company which was granted the rights to operate the canal for 99 years. Work began in April of 1859, but it was a slow going at first as it was done by forced laborers wielding tools no more sophisticated than picks and shovels. Soon enough however the futile slowness of this became obvious. So European laborers with powerful earth moving machines such as steam shovels and dredgers were brought in and the work picked up speed. There were still problems; a cholera epidemic broke out, and there were also labor disputes. As a result the final opening came two years later than planned.
The Grande Celebration!
The completion of the Suez Canal was an occasion for huge celebrations. The spectacular began in Port Said with a grand ball attended by numerous heads of state such the Louis Napoleon and his beautiful wife, the Empress Eugenie, the Emperor of Austria, Edward Prince of Wales representing the British. The British never stopped
The Canal Since the Parties Ended....
At it's beginning, the canal was merely 25 ft. deep, 73 feet wide at its
bottom, and had a surface area of 200 to 300 feet wide. Such a shallow draft, the canal could only handle limited traffic. Thus only 500 ships were able to use it during its first year of service. However the significant improvements that were made in 1876 made it a very busy waterway indeed. In 1875, Great Britain became the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company when it bought up the stock of the new Ottoman governor of Egypt, Said Pasha, some 4,000 pounds sterling. Seven years later, in 1882, Britain invaded Egypt, beginning a long occupation of the country. The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 made Egypt virtually independent, But Britain considered the canal to be of vital interest in maintaining their worldwide Empire. So the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 left the Brits in charge of a defensive force along the canal zone. After W.W.II, Egypt, lead by their President Gamal Abdel Nasser pressed for the foreign forces to leave and wound up nationalizing the canal. A military attempt by Britain, France and Israel to take the canal back by force was forced out by international
pressure. Since then the canal has been open to worldwide commerce. In 2012, 17,225 ships moved through it; about 47 ships per day.