Port Suez
Review and History

Port Suez lies at the southern end of the Suez Canal and the head of the Gulf of Suez in northern Egypt. It contains two harbors, Port Ibrahim and Port Tawfiq, and covers a large area of Egypt’s Eastern Desert. The two ports form the Port Suez metropolitan area of about 511 thousand people (2006). It is connected by both highway and rail networks with Cairo and Port Said, and it has pipelines that carry finished petroleum products to Cairo. Port Suez is also a resting point for Muslim pilgrims going to and from the holy city of Mecca.

Port History

Port Suez has long been an important trading site, and an ancient canal reached from the Nile Delta to the Gulf of Suez. The Greek town of Clysma was located there which became a Muslim city, Kolsum, in the 7th Century AD. The Ottomans developed Port Suez as a Turkish naval station, after which the port entered a period of decline that did not end until the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal.

Evidence suggests that Seti I or Ramses II may have attempted to construct a canal from the Nile to the Gulf of Suez as early as the 13th Century BC, thus linking the Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea via the Nile. One historian wrote about a canal built by Necho II from 610-595 BC at the coast of 100 thousand lives. It was rebuilt and extended many times over the years. In the 5th Century BC, Persian king Darius I rebuilt the canal, the remains of which can still be seen along the Wadi.

It is believed that Ptolemy II Philadelphus extended the canal to the Red Sea in the 3rd Century BC, but that it was abandoned during the rule of the Roman Empire. Trajan rebuilt it again at the beginning of the 1st Century AD. For centuries, it was alternately abandoned and dredged for short periods and specific purposes. While Amr Ibn el-As rebuilt and opened the canal to create a supply line from Cairo in 767 AD, the Abbasid caliph El-Mansur closed the canal for good to cut off rebels.

In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte started a project to build a modern canal, but miscalculations soon led to the abandonment of the project. In 1833, French intellectuals called the Saint-Simoniens became interested in the project once again. However, the local ruler was not interested, and plague drove them back to France in 1835. They continued feasibility studies, though, and the recruited Pasha Said to follow through on their plans. In 1858, Said funded a project to build the canal to be operated by a private company under a 99-year lease.

In November 1869, the canal opened, and Mediterranean waters flowed into the Red Sea. It had dramatic impacts on worldwide commerce and politics. The Canal made it easier for European countries to colonize Africa. In 1875, the British government purchased the Egyptian shares in the canal, although France continued to be the majority owner. The 1888 Convention of Constantinople opened the canal to all nations in both war and peace. Even so, the British obtained rights to maintain defensive forces along the Canal Zone in a 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. In 1954, Egypt and Britain agreed to the withdrawal of British troops.

After 1956, intermittent conflicts forced closed of the Canal, and it was damaged during the Suez Crisis and Six-Day War. It remained closed from 1967 to 1975. Since 1975, the Suez Canal has been expanded and improved.

Today, the Suez Canal reaches for 100 miles from Port Said in the north to Port Suez in the south. Ships of 150 thousand DWT and 16 meters draft can move through the canal. Each day, three convoys traverse the canal, one northbound and two southbound, in a trip that takes from 11 to 16 hours. In 2003, more than 17.2 thousand ships made that journey. By 2010, planned improvements will allow supertankers to pass through the canal.

Port Suez has been an active commercial port since the 7th Century AD. It was prosperous during the Middle Ages based on pilgrimages to Mecca and the popular trade in spices. It was a naval base for the Turks during the 15th Century. Today, it is one of Egypt’s biggest ports. Located about 134 kilometers east of Cairo, it offers excellent views of the Red Sea and Sinai.

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