The Canal Cities There are several ways across the Delta to the Canal cities, but this route (approx. 265km) runs due E from Cairo to the southernmost
city, Suez, and then N along the W bank of the Canal through Ismaciliyyah to Port Sa9d. The main road to Suez leaves Cairo at Heliopolis (Rte 20) and runs E
across the desert. At 12km a road leaves to the N (to the CairoIsma9liyyah road and Cairo airport). To the N at 34km stands the
Dar al-Bayda (White Mansion), a ruined palace of cAbbas I Pasha. To the S a road leads to the al-Macadi-Red Sea road, and another at
23km also joins this. Passing S of the Gabaf clwaybid, at 21km a road leaves NE to the H44 (see below). 4km beyond is al-cAgrii.d where the Cairo-Suez
railway from the NW runs parallel to the road for the remaining 23km into Suez, the southernmost town on the Suez Canal.
History Since the European powers first took an interest in Egypt at the beginning of the 19C the building of a canal linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas had
been a constant preoccupation. It seemed an impossible task as, by a strange miscalculation, it was considered that the water level of the Red Sea was lower than that of the Mediterranean. The French did consider a canal which used a series of locks but the project was abandoned. Later British reports corrected the mistake but the British government considered the project impracticable. An enthusiastic French vice-consul in Egypt, Ferdinand de Lesseps, promulgated the scheme throughout the 1830s and ’40s but the British remained dubious. When Sa”id,Pasha, an old friend of de Lesseps, succeeded in 1854 he supported the plan and in the §ame year the articles of the Suez Canal Company were signed, with de Lesseps as director. Britain still opposed the scheme and by devious manipulation of the Ottoman administration in Istanbul attempted to halt progress even after work started in 1859. Gladstone, however, bowed to the inevitable and supported the project.
Isma”il became pasha in 1863 and thereafter, with his active encouragement, work progressed to completion in 1869. Many thousands died during the canal’s construction. European advisers had insisted that slave labour should not be used but there were many accidents. The opening ceremony was lavish and many European dignitaries attended, including Empress Eugenie of France and Edward and Alexandria, Prince and Princess of Wales. In a final
attempt at sabotage the British encouraged the Ottoman sultan to act on the fact that the company had not been ratified, but, with the intervention of
Napoleon III the rights of the company were approved.