Tuesday May 21st, 2024
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#ThrowbackThursday: The Original Suez Canal, 1869

What better day to take a trip down memory lane?

Staff Writer

#ThrowbackThursday: The Original Suez Canal, 1869

We've been seeing enormous campaigns and ads and hearing all about the opening of the new Suez Canal... but what do we actually know about the old one, where everything originated from? 

Take a step back in time, where everything was black and white and leaders were wearing the tarboosh.

In 1854, Cairo's former French consul Ferdinand de Lesseps, fixed an agreement with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal across the Isthmus of Suez with a length of 160 km. Construction began in April 1859, and was finished ten years later, marking the year for the authentic event. The  canal was actually originally a plan of Egyptian Pharaoh Senusret III, who may have built an early canal connecting the Red Sea and the Nile River around 1850 B.C, that was later on abandoned.

Napoleon Bonaparte was also said to have considered building it, but due to his scout team's failure to get correct measures of the sea, he completely disregarded the idea.

On the 16th of November, 1869 was undertaken by Isma'il Pasha and it lasted for four days, ending on the 20th of the given month. The event highlighted the importance of Egypt to European trade, most exclusively, England's. The canal thereby eased up the acces between India and England, marking Egypt as a critical spot which later on lead to the British occupation of the country, despite England's claims that the construction of such a canal was a "suicide act" and “a flagrant robbery gotten up to despoil the simple people.”

Despite the virtual independence the country later on gained after the Anglo-Egyptian treaty 1936, Britain still practiced their 'reserved' rights over the canal.

Instead of only scoring favors for the British for quite some time, the project was initially meant to be "global" and to make it easier for traders to be able to transport their goods all around the world; like today's globalization.

The Ismai'lia that we know today, owes its existence to that very first Suez Canal opening, as a few buildings were constructed in the town right before the inauguration and ever since then the town kept growing due to the exposure and inspiration of universal civilization. The number of visitors and tourists kept increasing, but the Egyptian Khedive was ever so generous to not only attract them to the country, but also pay their expenses.

The Khedive's most valued guest seemed to be Eugénie, the French Empress, as he built a palace exclusively for her right on the side of the Nile, which we now know as the Marriott Hotel. However, other attendees included many historical figures in political and literary fields, like the Austrian emperor Franz Joseph, the prince of Prussia, the King of Hungary and the royal siblings of Holland. 

Because of its major importance and worldwide undeniable influence, French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi tried to convince Ferdinand de Lesseps to let him build a sculpture called “Egypt Bringing Light to Asia” at its Mediterranean entrance, which was inspired by the ancient Colossus of Rhodes. The statue was imagined as a 90-foot-tall statue of a woman clothed in Egyptian peasant robes and holding a massive torch, which you would recognise as The Statue of Liberty today.