The building of the Suez Canal

Period : 2nd Republic / 2nd Empire
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Before the Canal

609 B.C.
The first canal was dug under the orders of Pharaoh Necho II. This connected the Nile to the Bitter Lakes and these to the Red Sea.

285 to 246 B.C.
Ptolemy II widened the canal.

96 to 117
Darius and Trajan renovated Necho II’s canal, but as this was not very suitable for navigation it was later abandoned.

The idea of digging a canal through the Suez isthmus was put to the Council of Ten by the Republic of Venice. The project was abandoned as being too expensive.

The engineers accompanying Bonaparte in Egypt had been ordered by the Directoire to dig the isthmus. Bonaparte put J-B. Le Père in charge of carrying out a survey. Despite Laplace’s opinion to the contrary, Le Père concluded that the level of the Red Sea was higher than that of the Mediterranean, an error which was to set the project back by half a century.

A (subsequently disregarded) project for a canal across the Suez isthmus by the Saint Simonian Prosper Enfantin.

During the Canal

30 November  1854
First concession granted by Said Pasha, son of Mohammed-Ali, to Ferdinand de Lesseps for the digging and use of a canal through the Suez isthmus for 99 years.

5 November 1857 
Floatation of Suez Canal. The share price was fixed at Frf 500, and 207,229 of the 400,000 shares available were bought.

15 December 1858 
Establishment of the «Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez».

25 April 1859
Start of the digging of the canal at Port Said.

9 June 1859 
An official order by the Egyptian government to halt work, ignored by Ferdinand de Lesseps.

23 October 1859
After meeting with Ferdinand de Lesseps, Napoleon III officially supports the canal project.

18 November 1862
The waters of the Mediterranean flow into Lake Timsah.

18 January 1863
Upon the death of Said, Ismail Pasha becomes the Viceroy of Egypt.
Turkey orders the project to be suspended.

The conflict between Egypt and Turkey is resolved thanks to Napoleon III’s arbitration. The Company then abandons the fresh water canal and 60,000 hectares of irrigable land and accepts the obligation that fellahs should no longer be employed on the construction. The latter are partially replaced by machines.

19 March 1866
Ratification of the concession by the Turkish sultan, Abdul-Aziz-Khan (Egypt is a province of Turkey).

15 August  1869
The waters of the Red Sea join those of the Mediterranean.

16 November 1869
Inauguration of the Suez Canal

After the Canal

The Company narrowly avoids bankruptcy.

25 November 1875
The British government buys the 176,602 Compagnie universelle du canal de Suez shares held by Ismail and thus becomes the principal shareholder.

21 February 1876
Convention solving the conflict over the tariffs for using the shipping canal.

June 1884 to February 1885
Establishment of a works programme for the widening of the Suez Canal.

1 March 1887
Authorisation for the night-time navigation of the canal.

22 December  1888
The Constantinople International Convention guaranteeing the neutrality and free use of the Suez Canal.

26 July 1956

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