Suez Canal

Suez Canal
Length193.3 km (120.1 miles)
Maximum boat beam77.5 m (254 ft 3 in)
Minimum boat draft20.1 m (66 ft)
Minimum boat air draft68 m (223 ft)
Navigation authoritySuez Canal Authority
Original ownerSuez Canal Company (Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez)
Construction began25 September 1859 (1859-09-25)
Date completed17 November 1869 (1869-11-17)
Start pointPort Said
End pointPort Tewfik, Suez
The southern terminus of the Suez Canal at Suez on the Gulf of Suez (Red Sea)

The Suez Canal (Arabic: قناة السويسqanāt as-suwēs) is a sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. Constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, it was officially opened on 17 November 1869. The canal offers watercraft a more direct route between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans via the Mediterranean and Red Seas, thus avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian Oceans and thereby reducing the journey distance from the Arabian Sea to, for example, London by approximately 8,900 kilometres (5,500 mi).[1] It extends from the northern terminus of Port Said to the southern terminus of Port Tewfik at the city of Suez. Its length is 193.30 km (120.11 mi), including its northern and southern access channels. In 2012, 17,225 vessels traversed the canal (an average of 47 per day).[2]

The original canal was a single-lane waterway with passing locations in the Ballah Bypass and the Great Bitter Lake.[3] It contains no locks system, with seawater flowing freely through it. In general, the canal north of the Bitter Lakes flows north in winter and south in summer. South of the lakes, the current changes with the tide at Suez.[4]

The canal is owned and maintained by the Suez Canal Authority[5] (SCA) of Egypt. Under the Convention of Constantinople, it may be used "in time of war as in time of peace, by every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag".[6]

In August 2014, construction was launched to expand and widen the Ballah Bypass for 35 km (22 mi) to speed the canal's transit time. The expansion was planned to double the capacity of the Suez Canal from 49 to 97 ships a day.[7] At a cost of $8.4 billion, this project was funded with interest-bearing investment certificates issued exclusively to Egyptian entities and individuals. The "New Suez Canal", as the expansion was dubbed, was opened with great fanfare in a ceremony on 6 August 2015.[8]

On 24 February 2016, the Suez Canal Authority officially opened the new side channel. This side channel, located at the northern side of the east extension of the Suez Canal, serves the East Terminal for berthing and unberthing vessels from the terminal. As the East Container Terminal is located on the Canal itself, before the construction of the new side channel it was not possible to berth or unberth vessels at the terminal while the convoy was running.[9]


Ancient west–east canals were built to facilitate travel from the Nile River to the Red Sea.[10][11][12] One smaller canal is believed to have been constructed under the auspices of Senusret II[13] or Ramesses II.[10][11][12] Another canal, probably incorporating a portion of the first,[10][11] was constructed under the reign of Necho II, but the only fully functional canal was engineered and completed by Darius I.[10][11][12]

2nd millennium BCE

The legendary Sesostris (likely either Pharaoh Senusret II or Senusret III of the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt[13][14]) may have started work on an ancient canal joining the Nile with the Red Sea (1897 BCE – 1839 BCE), when an irrigation channel was constructed around 1850 BCE that was navigable during the flood season, leading into a dry river valley east of the Nile River Delta named Wadi Tumilat.[15] (It is said that in ancient times the Red Sea reached northward to the Bitter Lakes[10][11] and Lake Timsah.[16][17])

In his Meteorology, Aristotle wrote:

One of their kings tried to make a canal to it (for it would have been of no little advantage to them for the whole region to have become navigable; Sesostris is said to have been the first of the ancient kings to try), but he found that the sea was higher than the land. So he first, and Darius afterwards, stopped making the canal, lest the sea should mix with the river water and spoil it.[18]

Strabo wrote that Sesostris started to build a canal, and Pliny the Elder wrote:

165. Next comes the Tyro tribe and, the harbour of the Daneoi, from which Sesostris, king of Egypt, intended to carry a ship-canal to where the Nile flows into what is known as the Delta; this is a distance of over 60 miles. Later the Persian king Darius had the same idea, and yet again Ptolemy II, who made a trench 100 feet wide, 30 feet deep and about 35 miles long, as far as the Bitter Lakes.[19]

In the second half of the 19th century, French cartographers discovered the remnants of an ancient north–south canal past the east side of Lake Timsah and ending near the north end of the Great Bitter Lake.[20] This proved to be the celebrated canal made by the Persian king Darius I, as his stele commemorating its construction was found at the site. (This ancient, second canal may have followed a course along the shoreline of the Red Sea when it once extended north to Lake Timsah.[17][20]) In the 20th century the northward extension of this ancient canal was discovered, extending from Lake Timsah to the Ballah Lakes.[21] This was dated to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt by extrapolating the dates of ancient sites along its course.[21]

The reliefs of the Punt expedition under Hatshepsut, 1470 BCE, depict seagoing vessels carrying the expeditionary force returning from Punt. This suggests that a navigable link existed between the Red Sea and the Nile.[22] Recent excavations in Wadi Gawasis may indicate that Egypt's maritime trade started from the Red Sea and did not require a canal.[citation needed] Evidence seems to indicate its existence by the 13th century BCE during the time of Ramesses II.[10][23][24][25]

Canals dug by Necho, Darius I and Ptolemy

Remnants of an ancient west–east canal through the ancient Egyptian cities of Bubastis, Pi-Ramesses, and Pithom were discovered by Napoleon Bonaparte and his engineers and cartographers in 1799.[11][26][27][28][29]

According to the Histories of the Greek historian Herodotus,[30] about 600 BCE, Necho II undertook to dig a west–east canal through the Wadi Tumilat between Bubastis and Heroopolis,[11] and perhaps continued it to the Heroopolite Gulf and the Red Sea.[10] Regardless, Necho is reported as having never completed his project.[10][11]

Herodotus was told that 120,000 men perished in this undertaking, but this figure is doubtless exaggerated.[31] According to Pliny the Elder, Necho's extension to the canal was about 57 English miles,[11] equal to the total distance between Bubastis and the Great Bitter Lake, allowing for winding through valleys.[11] The length that Herodotus tells, of over 1000 stadia (i.e., over 114 miles (183 km)), must be understood to include the entire distance between the Nile and the Red Sea[11] at that time.

With Necho's death, work was discontinued. Herodotus tells that the reason the project was abandoned was because of a warning received from an oracle that others would benefit from its successful completion.[11][32] Necho's war with Nebuchadnezzar II most probably prevented the canal's continuation.

Necho's project was completed by Darius I of Persia, who ruled over Ancient Egypt after it had been conquered by his predecessor Cambyses II.[33] It may be that by Darius's time a natural[11] waterway passage which had existed[10] between the Heroopolite Gulf and the Red Sea[34] in the vicinity of the Egyptian town of Shaluf[11] (alt. Chalouf[35] or Shaloof[17]), located just south of the Great Bitter Lake,[11][17] had become so blocked[10] with silt[11] that Darius needed to clear it out so as to allow navigation[11] once again. According to Herodotus, Darius's canal was wide enough that two triremes could pass each other with oars extended, and required four days to traverse. Darius commemorated his achievement with a number of granite stelae that he set up on the Nile bank, including one near Kabret, and a further one a few miles north of Suez. The Darius Inscriptions read:[36]

Saith King Darius: I am a Persian. Setting out from Persia, I conquered Egypt. I ordered this canal dug from the river called the Nile that flows in Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. When the canal had been dug as I ordered, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, even as I intended.

— Darius Inscription

The canal left the Nile at Bubastis. An inscription[37] on a pillar at Pithom records that in 270 or 269 BCE, it was again reopened, by Ptolemy II Philadelphus. In Arsinoe,[11] Ptolemy constructed a navigable lock, with sluices, at the Heroopolite Gulf of the Red Sea,[34] which allowed the passage of vessels but prevented salt water from the Red Sea from mingling with the fresh water in the canal.[38]

Receding Red Sea and the dwindling Nile

The Red Sea is believed by some historians to have gradually receded over the centuries, its coastline slowly moving southward away from Lake Timsah[16][17] and the Great Bitter Lake.[10][11] Coupled with persistent accumulations of Nile silt, maintenance and repair of Ptolemy's canal became increasingly cumbersome over each passing century.

Two hundred years after the construction of Ptolemy's canal, Cleopatra seems to have had no west–east waterway passage,[10][11] because the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, which fed Ptolemy's west–east canal, had by that time dwindled, being choked with silt.[10][11]

Old Cairo to the Red Sea

By the 8th century, a navigable canal existed between Old Cairo and the Red Sea,[10][11] but accounts vary as to who ordered its construction—either Trajan or 'Amr ibn al-'As, or Omar the Great.[10][11] This canal was reportedly linked to the River Nile at Old Cairo[11] and ended near modern Suez.[10][39] A geography treatise by Dicuil reports a conversation with an English monk, Fidelis, who had sailed on the canal from the Nile to the Red Sea during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the first half of the 8th century[40]

The Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur is said to have ordered this canal closed in 767 to prevent supplies from reaching Arabian detractors.[10][11]

Repair by al-Ḥākim

Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah is claimed to have repaired the Cairo to Red Sea passageway,[10][11] but only briefly, circa 1000 AD,[10][11] as it soon "became choked with sand".[11] However, we are told that parts of this canal still continued to fill in during the Nile's annual inundations.[10][11]

Conception by Venice

The successful 1488 navigation of southern Africa by Bartolomeu Dias opened a direct maritime trading route to India and the spice islands, and forever changed the balance of Mediterranean trade. One of the most prominent losers in the new order, as former middlemen, was the former spice trading center of Venice.

Venetian leaders, driven to desperation, contemplated digging a waterway between the Red Sea and the Nile—anticipating the Suez Canal by almost 400 years—to bring the luxury trade flooding to their doors again. But this remained a dream.

— Colin Thubron, Seafarers: The Venetians (1980), p. 102

Despite entering negotiations with Egypt's ruling Mamelukes, the Venetian plan to build the canal was quickly put to rest by the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, led by Sultan Selim I.[41]

Ottoman attempts

During the 16th century, the Ottoman Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha attempted to construct a canal connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. This was motivated by a desire to connect Constantinople to the pilgrimage and trade routes of the Indian Ocean, as well as by strategic concerns -- as the European presence in the Indian Ocean was growing, Ottoman mercantile and strategic interests were increasingly challenged, and the Sublime Porte was increasingly pressed to assert its position. A navigable canal would allow the Ottoman Navy to connect its Red Sea, Black Sea, and White Sea fleets. However, this project was deemed too expensive, and was never completed.[42][43]

Napoleon's discovery of an ancient canal

During the French campaign in Egypt and Syria in late 1798, Napoleon showed an interest in finding the remnants of an ancient waterway passage. This culminated in a cadre of archaeologists, scientists, cartographers and engineers scouring northern Egypt.[44][45] Their findings, recorded in the Description de l'Égypte, include detailed maps that depict the discovery of an ancient canal extending northward from the Red Sea and then westward toward the Nile.[44][46]

Later, Napoleon, who would become French Emperor in 1804, contemplated the construction of a north–south canal to connect the Mediterranean with the Red Sea. But the plan was abandoned because it wrongly concluded that the waterway would require locks to operate. These would be very expensive and take a long time to construct. This decision was based on an erroneous belief that the Red Sea was 10 m (33 ft) higher than the Mediterranean. The error was the result of using fragmentary survey measurements taken in wartime during Napoleon's Egyptian Expedition.[47] In 1819 the Pacha of Egypt undertook some canal work.[48]

However, as late as 1861, the unnavigable ancient route discovered by Napoleon from Bubastis to the Red Sea still channeled water in spots as far east as Kassassin.[11]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Suezkanaal
Alemannisch: Sueskanal
አማርኛ: ስዌዝ ቦይ
العربية: قناة السويس
aragonés: Canal de Suez
অসমীয়া: ছুৱেজ খাল
asturianu: Canal de Suez
azərbaycanca: Süveyş kanalı
تۆرکجه: سوئز کانالی
Bân-lâm-gú: Suez Ūn-hô
башҡортса: Суэц каналы
беларуская: Суэцкі канал
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Суэцкі канал
भोजपुरी: स्वेज नहर
Bikol Central: Kanal Suez
български: Суецки канал
Boarisch: Sueskanal
bosanski: Sueski kanal
brezhoneg: Kanol Suez
català: Canal de Suez
Чӑвашла: Суец каналĕ
Cebuano: Suez Canal
Cymraeg: Camlas Suez
Deutsch: Sueskanal
español: Canal de Suez
Esperanto: Sueza Kanalo
euskara: Suezko kanala
Fiji Hindi: Suez Canal
føroyskt: Suezveitin
français: Canal de Suez
ગુજરાતી: સુએઝ નહેર
한국어: 수에즈 운하
हिन्दी: स्वेज़ नहर
hrvatski: Sueski kanal
Ilokano: Kanal Suez
Bahasa Indonesia: Terusan Suez
interlingua: Canal de Suez
Interlingue: Canale de Suez
íslenska: Súesskurðurinn
italiano: Canale di Suez
עברית: תעלת סואץ
Basa Jawa: Terusan Suèz
Kabɩyɛ: Suɛz Hɛŋa
ქართული: სუეცის არხი
қазақша: Суэц каналы
Kiswahili: Mfereji wa Suez
Кыргызча: Суэц каналы
latviešu: Suecas kanāls
Lëtzebuergesch: Suezkanal
lietuvių: Sueco kanalas
Limburgs: Suezkanaal
lumbaart: Canal de Suez
मैथिली: स्वेज नहर
македонски: Суецки Канал
മലയാളം: സൂയസ് കനാൽ
მარგალური: სუეციშ არხი
Bahasa Melayu: Terusan Suez
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Suez Ông-ò̤
Nederlands: Suezkanaal
नेपाली: स्वेज नहर
नेपाल भाषा: सुएज नहर
日本語: スエズ運河
нохчийн: Суэцан татол
norsk nynorsk: Suezkanalen
олык марий: Суэц канал
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Suvaysh kanali
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਸੁਏਸ ਨਹਿਰ
پنجابی: نہر سوئز
Patois: Suez Kianal
Piemontèis: Canal ëd Suez
português: Canal de Suez
română: Canalul Suez
русиньскый: Суезькый канал
саха тыла: Суэц ханаала
ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱲᱤ: ᱥᱩᱣᱮᱡᱽ ᱠᱮᱱᱟᱞ
sicilianu: Canali di Suez
සිංහල: සූවස් ඇළ
Simple English: Suez Canal
slovenčina: Suezský prieplav
slovenščina: Sueški prekop
Soomaaliga: Kanaalka Suweys
српски / srpski: Суецки канал
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Sueski kanal
svenska: Suezkanalen
Tagalog: Kanal Suez
tarandíne: Canale de Suez
татарча/tatarça: Сүәеш каналы
Türkmençe: Sues kanaly
українська: Суецький канал
اردو: نہر سوئز
vèneto: Canal de Sues
vepsän kel’: Suecan kanal
Tiếng Việt: Kênh đào Suez
ייִדיש: סועץ קאנאל
Yorùbá: Ìladò Suez
žemaitėška: Soeca kanals