Little Bits of History

Suez Canal

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 25, 2014
Suez Canal.

Suez Canal.

April 25, 1859: A ceremony is held for the breaking of ground for the Suez Canal. The canal is by definition an artificial waterway. It is entirely at ground level meaning there are no locks along the distance covered. It connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. The building took ten years and it opened to traffic in November 1869. The canal allows for ship transport between Europe and eastern Asia without having to sail around Africa. The northern terminus is Port Said and the southern one is Port Tawfiq located in the city of Suez. It is a single lane with two passing places – one at Ballah By-Pass and the other at Great Bitter Lake.

When first built by the Suez Canal Company it was 102 miles long and had a depth of 26 feet. The canal has been enlarged several times and today it is 120.11 miles long and has a depth of 79 feet. As of 2010, it was 673 feet wide. It has a northern access channel of 14 miles, the canal itself which is 100.82 miles, and the southern access channel which is 5.6 miles. Sea water flows through the canal freely. The canal north of the Bitter Lakes flows north in winter and south in summer. The current south of the lake is dependent on the tide at Suez. Today, it is owned and maintained by the Suez Canal Authority. International treaty states usage is universal “in time of war as in time of peace, by every vessel of commerce or of war, without distinction of flag.”

During the second millennium BC, one of the Pharaohs (probably Senusret II or Senusret III) started working on a canal to join the River Nile with the Red Sea. There is some evidence, as well, the level of the Red Sea was higher and it reached up to the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah. Aristotle mentions the possibility of this great building project in his Meteorology. Both Strabo and Pliny the Elder allude to it as well. In the 19th century, French cartographers discovered the remnants of an ancient north-south canal running along the east side of Lake Timsah and ending north of the Great Bitter Lake. It was proved to have been built by the Persian king Darius I in an inscription.

The connection of the east and west via a canal, like the connection at Panama, has been of ongoing interest. The shipping needs made travel around an entire continent so expensive that the building of a waterway became feasible. At Suez, the level land to cross made it much easier to build. It took a decade to construct and used forced labor during part of the time. Over 30,000 people were working on the project at any given time and more than 1.5 million were employed over the course of the building. Thousands died during the construction. The final cost of building the canal was more than double the original estimate. Today, three convoys transit the canal in rotation – two southbound and one northbound. Passage takes between 11 and 16 hours. In 2008, 21,415 vessels passed through at the average cost of $251,000 per ship.

The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists. – Charles Dickens

When we are sick, we want an uncommon doctor; when we have a construction job to do, we want an uncommon engineer, and when we are at war, we want an uncommon general. It is only when we get into politics that we are satisfied with the common man. – Herbert Hoover

Most men love money and security more, and creation and construction less, as they get older. – John Maynard Keynes

If a building looks better under construction than it does when finished, then it’s a failure. – Douglas Coupland

Also on this day: “Off With Their Heads” – The Queen of Hearts – In 1792, the first person is executed by the more humane method of guillotine.
Semiconductor – In 1961, Robert Noyce patented the semiconductor and opened the computer age.
Ouch! –  In 1684, a patent was granted for a thimble.
Rebellion Losses Bill – In 1849, the bill was signed into law.

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