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Early Suez Canals

- Canal of Sity I 1310 B.C.
- Canal of Nkhaw 610 B.C.
- Canal of Darius I 510 B.C.
- Canal of Ptolemy II 285 B.C.
- Canal of The Romans 117 A.C.
- Canal of Amir El-Moemeneen 640 A.D.

The idea of a Suez Canal is no modern conception, hut the final accomplishment of this great international artery of traffic had to wait for the conjuncture of the necessary technical skill with a favorable combination of political and economical conditions. It is recorded that Egypt was the first country to dig a canal across its land with a view to activate world trade. The whole idea of establishing a canal linking between the red sea and the Mediterranean dates back to the oldest times, as Egypt dredged the first artificial canal on the planet's surface. Canals were built under Necho II (610 BC), Persian King Darius (522 BC), Polemy II (285 BC), Emperor Trajan (117 AD) and Amro Ibn Elass (640 AD), following the Islamic conquest.

The Suez Canal is considered to be the shortest link between the east and the west due to its unique geographic location; it is an important international navigation canal linking between the Mediterranean sea at Port said and the red sea at Suez. The idea of linking the Mediterranean sea with the red sea by a canal dates back to 40 centuries as it was pointed out through history starting by the pharaohs era passing by the Islamic era until it was dredged reaching its current condition today. It is considered to be the first artificial canal to be used in Travel and Trade.

The inscriptions in the tomb of Weni the Elder, who lived during the 6th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom (c. 2407-2260 BC) tell a lot about Egyptian canal building and the reasons for building them - (for war ships and for transporting monument stone). Scholars are still debating, however, whether his waterways ran all the way from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. The first canal was dug under the reign of Senausret III, Pharaoh of Egypt (1887-1849 BC) linking the Mediterranean Sea in the north with the Red sea in the south via the river Nile and its branches. The Canal often abandoned to silting and was successfully reopened to navigation by Sity I (1310 BC).

The earliest authenticated attempt to connect the Red Sea with the Nile (and thereby with the Mediterranean) was made by Necho. His plan was to extend towards the S., from Lake Timsah to the Red Sea, an earlier canal, in existence even during the Middle Empire, which diverged from the Nile near Bubastis and flowed through the Wadi Tumilat. Under Necho II , a canal was built between the Pelusian branch of the Nile and the northern end of the Bitter Lakes (which lies between the two seas) at a cost of, reportedly, 100,000 lives. Herodotus relates that no fewer than 120,000 Egyptians perished while engaged in the work, and the king afterwards abandoned the undertaking, as he was informed by the oracle that the barbarians (i.e. the Persians) alone would profit by it.

The length of this is a voyage of four days, and in breadth it was so dug that two triremes could go side by side driven by oars; and the water is brought into it from the Nile. The channel is conducted a little above the city of Bubastis (near by Zagazig city) by Patumos the Arabian city (Near by Ismailia city), and runs into the Erythraian Sea: and it is dug first along those parts of the plain of Egypt which lie towards Arabia (Eastern desert), just above which run the mountains which extend opposite Memphis (south of Cairo), where are the stone-quarries,--along the base of these mountains the channel is conducted from West to East for a great way; and after that it is directed towards a break in the hills and tends from these mountains towards the noon-day and the South Wind to the Arabian gulf (Gulf of Suez). Now in the place where the journey is least and shortest from the Northern to the Southern Sea (which is also called Erythraian), that is from Mount Casion (east of Port Said), which is the boundary between Egypt and Syria, the distance is exactly a thousand furlongs (1 furlongs equals about 200 meter) to the Arabian gulf; but the channel is much longer, since it is more winding; and in the reign of Necos there perished while digging it twelve myriads of the Egyptians.

Necos ceased in the midst of his digging, because the utterance of an Oracle impeded him, which was to the effect that he was working for the Barbarian: and the Egyptians call all men Barbarians who do not agree with them in speech. Over many years, the canal fell into disrepair, only to be extended, abandoned, and rebuilt again.

The canal was completed a century later by Darius. After having been neglected, it was rebuilt by the Persian ruler, Darius I (522-486 BC), whose canal can still be seen along the Wadi Tumilat. According to Herodotus, his canal was wide enough that two triremes could pass each other with oars extended, and that it took four days to navigate. He commemorated the completion of his canal with a series of granite stelae set up along the Nile bank, of which the remains have been found at different spots (e.g. to the S. of Tell el-Maskhu{a; to the W. of the Serapeum station; to theN. of Shaluf et-Terabeh; and to the N. of Suez). Its course roughly corresponded to that of the present Fresh Water Canal.

Under the Ptolemies the canal system was extended, and locks were erected at its efflux into the Red Sea. The canal is said to have been 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 various but limited purposes.

The Canal fell into disrepair during the first century BC, and Trajan (98-117A.D.) seems to ha restored it. At all events, a canal, beginning near Cairo, and terminating in the Gulf of Suez, the precise course of which, probably following the earlier channel, is nowhere described, was called the Amnis Trajanus (Trajan's river).

After the Arabs had conquered Egypt, they must have been desirous of connecting the Lower Egyptian part of the Nile as directly as possible with the Red Sea. 'Amr ibn el-'As accordingly restored the ancient canal (of which the former Khalig at Cairo is said to have been a portion), and used it for the transport of grain from Fostat to Kolzum (Suez), whence it was exported by the Red Sea to Arabia. Amro Ibn Elass rebuilt the canal after the Islamic takeover of Egypt linking the Nile to the Red Sea creating a new supply line from Cairo. It was used for shipping grain to Arabia and to transport the pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The canal was stopped up in 767 AD by the Abbasid caliph El-Mansur to cut off supplies to insurgents located in the Delta and to starve out rebels in Medina. The bed of the ancient canal is said to have been pointed out to Amr by a Copt. The canal again became unserviceable after the 8th century.

At a later period the Venetians frequently thought of constructing a canal through the Isthmus with a view to recover the trade which they had lost owing to the discovery of the route round the Cape of Good Hope, and several travellers advocated the scheme; but no one seriously attempted to carry it out. Leibnitz, too, in his proposal regarding an expedition to Egypt, made in 1671 to Louis XIV, the greatest monarch of his age, strongly recommends the construction of such a canal. Sultan Mustafa III, the admirer of Frederick the Great, AH Bey, the enterprising Mameluke prince, and Bonaparte all revived the scheme, and the latter on his expedition to Egypt in 1798 even caused the preliminary works to be undertaken, but the actual execution of the project seemed almost as distant as ever.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:38:52 ZULU