|Alexandria, 23 November 1862.
On 18 November 1862, at 11 oclock 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
(Association du Souvenir de Ferdinand de Lesseps et du Canal de
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
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
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
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 simmortalisaient, éternisant la mort.
Plus illustre et plus grand, Saïd, malgré lenvie,
Va simmortaliser, éternisant la vie,
Et son souffle puissant va ranimer ce bord.
Oui, nous irons dans lInde, 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 dhorreurs, brilleront dans le monde
Et répandront partout dinnombrables bienfaits.
Alexandre, Timour, la Compagnie anglaise,
Nadir, faisant de lInde une immense fournaise,
Ne fondront plus ni lor ni lhomme au même feu ;
Mais le commerce actif, lincessante industrie
Feront du monde entier une seule patrie,
Et les peuples, poussés par le souffle de Dieu,
Entonneront en chur lhymne de lespérance !
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 sopposer à leur marche !
Soudain des Pharaons ils subiraient le sort.
Notre siècle entre tous resplendit de merveilles.
Pour cet enfantement que dardeurs et de veilles !
Comparons hardiment nos ouvrages profonds
Aux uvres des vieux temps stériles ou timides ;
Les sommets orgueilleux des vieilles pyramides
Nont 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
" 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
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!" [...]