How the Suez Canal Was Built

World trade is a big business (I mean yeah, it pretty much *is* the economy after all)

and thus situating yourself near a chokepoint between two major bodies of water (à la Singapore)

can be a godsend to an area’s local economy.

However if I were to ask most people which is the most important waterway in the world,

sure some would answer the Straights of Malacca or the South China Sea, but for most it would

be a toss-up between the Panama and Suez Canals.

In this video, we will focus on the history and construction of the Suez Canal, the bigger

and also much older of the two.

Like, /much/ older.

The Suez Canal, as it currently exists, is a 193-kilometer artificial waterway connecting

the Mediterranean Sea at Port Said to the Red Sea at Port Tewfik.

This waterway connects the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in a way that doesn’t require a ship

heading between Europe and Asia either go around Africa or... wait for the ice to melt

in the Arctic.

The canal also, unlike the Panama Canal, has no locks at all, making it easier for ships

to slip right through and for the canal to be expanded, should the Egyptian government

prioritize such a project.

This makes this little waterway between Africa and Asia one of the most revolutionary projects

in the transportation world.

With this canal, a ship traveling from (for example) Port Sudan to Antalya, Turkey would

only have to travel about 2,000 kilometers, without the canal this distance would be nearly

23,000 kilometers, which means it would be a shorter distance by boat to Samoa.

So this is pretty damn important!

The Suez Canal was first opened in 1869, or at least the Suez Canal as we know it today.

You see, as tough as it may have been to build a canal at this scale, this canal was far

from the first of its kind, and even less so the first attempt.

In fact a canal of this sort was first attempted by Egypt in the 19th century…

BC, under the rule of Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senusret II-- though do keep in mind these

records aren’t in the best condition, with some theorizing that it might have been under

the rule of Ramesses II, which is a pretty big range.

Regardless, this canal was not located in the Sinai Peninsula, as is the current one,

rather it was a canal between the Red Sea (which at this time extended much further

north) and the Nile River; logically seeing as this was the heart of Egyptian civilization.

Later canals in this area, likely even building upon the original, were constructed over 1,000

years later, with the only functional one of these being built under Darius I of Persia.

A canal was reportedly later opened by the time of the Islamic Caliphates between the

Red Sea and Old Cairo (basically the pre-release version of Cairo itself), though this was

reportedly closed under orders from Caliph Al-Mansur in the 8th century AD.

That combined with the Red Sea gradually receding away from what are now the Bitter Lakes caused

the canal to fade into disuse.

Trade in the area was generally served more by overland caravan until after the 15th century,

when western European nations decided to start going west to try to get to East Asia, and

also after the Portuguese figured out how to encircle Africa

in 1488.

Venice was a natural loser in this arrangement, and so decided to strike a deal with the Mamluk

Sultanate to build a new canal through the Sinai Peninsula, but this idea had to be shelved

because of that whole Ottoman-conquest-of-Egypt-in-1517 thing.

That didn’t mean the Ottomans weren’t interested in a Suez Canal either though,

in fact it would have been a godsend to connect the imperial core in and around Constantinople

to the trade and pilgrimage routes of the Indian Ocean (I mean, the Ottoman Empire did

also hold Mecca).

However this project was eventually deemed too expensive and also shelved.

Napoleon then came to Egypt at the end of the 18th century and also thought building

a canal here would be a good idea and so decided to survey the land.

However their calculations told them that the Red Sea was about 10 meters higher than

the Mediterranean, and so they also gave up.

In the following decades, with Egypt now under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty (again, no relation),

a railway was setup between Alexandria and Suez… but this wasn’t good enough for

global trade, so guess what they thought of?

That’s right, a canal!

After it was found that Napoleon’s surveys got the height of the seas wrong, the canal’s

biggest sponsor was Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps.

Initially Muhammad Ali Pasha was not interested, but de Lesseps became a long-time friend with

his son Mohammed Sa’id Pasha, who granted a special zone for the canal to be built,

with the Suez Canal Company established in 1858, and the land given to said company on

a 99-year lease with 75% of the profits going to them, 15% to Egypt, and 10% to their investors.

Construction broke ground in 1859 and would take ten years and a grand total of over 1.5

million workers throughout the decade (though usually 30,000 at a time), with thousands

of worker deaths due to various outbreaks, mainly cholera.

After the two teams met in the middle at the Bitter Lakes, a huge opening ceremony was

held on the canal on 15.November.1869, with banquets on Ismail Pasha’s yacht and blessings

with both Christian and Islamic ceremonies (including a temporary church and mosque for

the event).

The area, seeing virtually immediate success, was declared in the Constantinople Convention

to be an international zone under British protection.

This would play a pivotal part in the World Wars, and would also contribute to conflict

between Britain and Egypt in the Suez Crisis.

If this video gets popular enough I’ll do a full video on the Suez Canal’s 20th century

history, but the Canal became a huge source of contention between Egypt and France, Britain,

and Israel.

Regardless, the moral of the story, kids, is that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams

that easily…

I guess.

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Thanks for watching!

I admittedly had to kind of rush this video for travel reasons, but be sure to like, share,

and especially subscribe to learn something new every Sunday (especially next week, where

I’ll be coming to you from Rome).

Oh and let me know if you want a follow-up video!