The Entrance of the Mediterranean into lake Timsah.
Private correspondence concerning the Isthmus of Suez, Journal de l'union des deux mers
n°155,1 December 1862.

Alexandria, 23 November 1862.

On 18 November 1862, at 11 o’clock in the morning, the Mediterranean flowed into Lake Timsah, thereby enabling modern society to achieve a feat of which Antiquity was not capable. The Pharaohs, at the height of their glory and in all their might, shrank from the task, regarding the direct communication across the isthmus of Suez as impossible.

Barry, Site N°6 - Ismailia.
Entry of the waters of the Mediterranean into Lake Timsah, 18 November 1862
(Association du Souvenir de Ferdinand de Lesseps et du Canal de Suez)

M. de Lesseps decided the matter when he pierced the sill of El-Guisr. Today the joining of the Mediterranean to the Red Sea must be considered already accomplished. Lake Timsah, situated in middle of the isthmus, and into which the waters of the Mediterranean currently flow, once communicated with the Red Sea via a canal; what remained to be completed, therefore, has already been achieved.

The following is a brief account of what took place on 18 November and the route which we took to get to the banks of Lake Timsah.

A special train, kindly made available to M. de Lesseps by the viceroy, carried his guests from Cairo to Zagazig. The whole of Europe was represented there, including the French consul to Cairo, the consul of Italy, the consul general of Holland, the consul general of Austria, prince Czartoriski, princess Czartoriska, commandant Mansell, one of the most remarkable men in the British navy, officers from his staff, several British travellers of great distinction, and a number of important residents from Cairo and Alexandria.

At Zagazig, boats and cars transported us to the fine estate of Ouady, the property owned by the Company. The following day, the freshwater canal carried us to the town of Timsah, which lies on the bank of the lake. This canal is in itself a considerable piece of work, bringing life to the desert; in a few months it will be completed right through to Suez.
At the Timsah landing stage, we were greeted with the music of the French and British national anthems; it was an invitation to union at the place which one barely would have believed to be the cause of discord between the two countries.

On the plateau overlooking the lake a series of tents awaited us. From this vantage point, our view was of the immense desert below, extending even as far as the mountains of the Red Sea. At our feet lay the lake, spread out like a vast natural port. What better site for the future metropolis of the isthmus! The town is already beginning to spring up, the houses for the administration and staff are taking shape; the locations on which the main buildings are to be erected have been designated. I have seen the plan for the town; there, in a matter of months, on what was once just sand, will rise up a new city.
Although it is interesting to see a town that has been founded and is under construction, we were in fact witnessing something of much greater importance, the renowned sill of El-Guisr, and the canal crossing about which Europe still expresses misgivings. We were all most impatient to see the inauguration due to take place at point where the canal opens into the lake, some two kilometres from Timsah.

We had barely gone one kilometre around the lake when we were confronted by a triumphal arch and a pavilion surrounded by Venetian poles decorated with banners of a thousand colours. The pavilion had been erected specially for the viceroy and at his request; the triumphal arch and Venetian poles await his forthcoming arrival. Nearby could be seen a platform decorated with flags and palms: it was here that the celebration was to be held. A short distance away stood a long hill on the horizon, stretching from north to south: it was the canal embankment on the Asian side.

Once we had reached the platform, the spectacle suddenly took on an overwhelming sense of grandeur. What had been a hill was now a mountain; below us was flowing a stretch of water some 15 metres in width: these were the waters of the Mediterranean, waiting for the sign to rush in to the lake. European workmen, fellahs and Bedouins had spread out along the banks of the canal. The grand Mufti of Egypt, the principle ulemas of Cairo, sheikh Ul-Islam, the Catholic bishop of Egypt surrounded by his clergy, guests, engineers, doctors, foremen, all of them took part in this great achievement, as they stood on and around the platform. The deputy of the viceroy Ismail Bey was also present.

M. de Lesseps, who was presiding over the event, called for silence and addressed the workmen gathered together on the dike built to hold back the waters:

    " In the name of His Highness Mohammed-Said, he said with dignity, I order, by the grace of God, that the waters of the Mediterranean flow into Lake Timsah."

For a moment there was solemn silence, everyone's eyes focused on the dike. Then as the water rushed in, foaming and carrying with it the earth, there went up an immense shout, bravos, cries of enthusiasm, the emotion of the occasion had touched everyone's hearts. Tears rolled down sun-scorched faces and I could hear the repeated hoorays of the British representatives joining with those of all around them. The Egyptian national anthem was played, the ulemas, standing, called to Allah in a loud voice and the chief priests spoke the fatwah, a kind of religious oath proclaiming the great event and which would be read out in all the mosques of Egypt.

As we watched, it seemed barely possible that the roaring Mediterranean was rushing into the lake and away towards the Red Sea beyond.

What is there to say after such a spectacle! The town itself, rather curious built here in the midst of the desert, now seemed to have lost its initial interest. A Te Deum, sung in the chapel by the Bishop of Egypt, was attended by all the Europeans, irrespective of their denomination; I believe I even saw some Arabs.

To bring the celebrations to a close, workmen from Europe, Arabs chiefs, guests, and all the civil servants and members of staff present gathered round a table set for five hundred. At the banquet M. de Lesseps asked that only one toast be proposed, that of the viceroy of Egypt, Mohammed-Said:

    " Gentlemen, he said, the facts speak for themselves; the day has been too solemn for us to make speeches: after what we have just witnessed, I find myself unable to express my sentiments adequately or to find the words befitting such an occasion. Instead I shall leave you with the words of a poet from Marseilles, Mr Cauvin, who has sent me the following verses:

    Les Pharaons dressaient dans leurs sables stériles

    Leurs cinquante tombeaux, monuments immobiles,

    Et s’immortalisaient, éternisant la mort.

    Plus illustre et plus grand, Saïd, malgré l’envie,

    Va s’immortaliser, éternisant la vie,

    Et son souffle puissant va ranimer ce bord.

    Oui, nous irons dans l’Inde, objet de tant de rêves,

    Non point en conquérants, fléaux armés de glaives,

    Mais portant à la main le rameau de la paix.

    Ces parfums et cet or, ces trésors de Golconde,

    Source de tant d’horreurs, brilleront dans le monde

    Et répandront partout d’innombrables bienfaits.

    Alexandre, Timour, la Compagnie anglaise,

    Nadir, faisant de l’Inde une immense fournaise,

    Ne fondront plus ni l’or ni l’homme au même feu ;

    Mais le commerce actif, l’incessante industrie

    Feront du monde entier une seule patrie,

    Et les peuples, poussés par le souffle de Dieu,

    Entonneront en chœur l’hymne de l’espérance !

    Le drapeau de la paix déployé par la France

    Sera béni par tous dans un divin transport ;

    Tous les peuples amis suivront la nouvelle arche.

    Malheur à qui voudrait s’opposer à leur marche !

    Soudain des Pharaons ils subiraient le sort.

    Notre siècle entre tous resplendit de merveilles.

    Pour cet enfantement que d’ardeurs et de veilles !

    Comparons hardiment nos ouvrages profonds

    Aux œuvres des vieux temps stériles ou timides ;

    Les sommets orgueilleux des vieilles pyramides

    N’ont jamais contemplé des travaux si féconds.

After these words, I can but thank you, my worthy working companions, for the ardour and intelligence which you have displayed in completing this portion of our task. Let us then raise our glasses to the promoter of the canal, for without him, it is sure, the canal would have been impossible. To Mohammed-Said, viceroy of Egypt!"

The toast was greeted with a wave of applause... We were just about to retire when the commandant Mansell rose from his seat and addressed M. de Lesseps, in French, with the following words: " Despite your wish, Mr Chairman, allow me to thank you for the warm welcome you have given both to me and to my countrymen. For seven years, I have followed the Suez Canal affair with immense interest, however I knew it only by Port Said. I was in favour of it, but I must admit that I never believed it would be as tremendous, as complete and as advanced a success as it is. I am astonished by what I have just seen and it is my belief that you will succeed in your endeavour. To your health, Mr Chairman, and to the success of your enterprise!

The words spoken by the British commandant were greeted with loud bravos.

    " Gentlemen, replied M. de Lesseps, since the commandant Mansell has been so kind as to propose a toast to your Chairman and to the success of our enterprise, let us express to him, and to the honourable gentlemen accompanying him, a vote of thanks for being present among us to-day. Their presence lends to our festivities and enterprise the character of union and universality they so justly deserve.

    I drink to the commandant Mansell's health and to the health of his honourable companions and I drink to the union between France and England!" [...]