Page images

Kalyub. It obtained this name because a Copt called Makawkas * sent, among other gifts, a jar of honey to Muhammad the Prophet. Quite close to this town are the ruins of the ancient city of Athribis.

About forty miles to the east of Alexandria lies the town of Rosetta, not far from the ancient Bolbitane. It was founded towards the end of the ninth century, and was once a flourishing seaport; it has become famous in modern times on account of the trilingual inscription, called the 'Rosetta Stone,' which was found here in 1799 by a French officer called Boussard. This inscription was inscribed on a block of basalt, and contained a decree by the Egyptian priests in honour of Ptolemy V., Epiphanes, dated in the eighth year of his reign (b.c. 196). The hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek texts enabled Young and Champollion to work out the phonetic values of a number of the hieroglyphic characters employed to write the names of the Greek rulers. The stone is preserved in the British Museum.

* Makawkas was "Prince of the Copts," and "Governor of Alexandria and Egypt "; he was a Jacobite, and a strong hater of the Melchites or "Royalists." He was invited to become a follower of Muhammad the Prophet, but he declined. When Egypt was captured by 'Ami ibn el-'Asi he betrayed the Copts, but by means of paying tribute he secured to himself the liberty of professing the Christian religion, and he asked that, after his death, his body might be buried in the church of St. John at Alexandria. He sent, as gifts to the Prophet, two Coptic young women, sisters, called Maryam and Shirin; two girls, one eunuch, a horse, a mule, an ass, a jar of honey, an alabaster jar, a jar of oil, an ingot of gold, and some Egyptian linen. (Gagnier, La vie de Mahomet, pp. 38, 73.) The Arabic geographers state that the best honey in Egypt comes from Benha.


The town of Suez practically sprang into existence during the building of the Suez Canal, which was opened in 1869; before that time it was an insignificant village with a few hundred inhabitants. Ancient history is almost silent about it, even if it be identified with Clysma* Praesidium. It is situated at the north end of the Gulf of Suez, and is now important from its position at the south end of the Suez Canal. A fresh-water canal from Cairo to Suez was built in 1863, but before the cutting of this canal the inhabitants obtained their water either from the Wells of Moses (about eight miles from Suez) or Cairo. It was at one time considered to be near the spot where the Israelites crossed the 'Sea of Sedge'; there is little doubt, however, that the passage was made much nearer the Mediterranean.

The neck of land which joins Asia to Africa, or the Isthmus of Suez, is nearly one hundred miles wide; on the south side is the Gulf of Suez, on the north the Mediterranean. The Red Sea and the Mediterranean appear to have been united in ancient days. Modern investigations have proved that so far back as the time of Rameses II. or earlier a canal was cut between Pelusium and Lake Timsah, and it is almost certain that it was well fortified. The Asiatics who wished to invade Egypt were compelled to cross the Isthmus of Suez, and a canal would not only serve as a water barrier against them, but be useful

* Clysma, in Arabic Kulzum, is said by the Arabic geographers to have been situated on the coast of the sea of Yemen, on the Egyptian side, at the far end, three days from Cairo and four days from Pelusium. (Juynboll, Lex. Geog. Arab., t. ii.,p. PP.)

as a means of transport for troops from one point to another. The name of the place Kantara, 'a bridge,' a little to the north of Isma'iliya, seems to point to the fact of a ford existing here from very early times. Nekau (b.c. 6io) began to make a canal at Bubastis, between the Nile and the Red Sea, but never finished it; it was continued in later times by Darius, and Ptolemy Philadelphus made a lock for it; still later we know that the Mediterranean and Red Seas were joined by a canal. The emperor Trajan made a canal from Cairo to the Red Sea, which, having become impassable, was re-opened by 'Omar's general, 'Amr ibn el-'Asi, after his capture of Egypt.

In the Middle Ages various attempts were made in a half-hearted manner to cut a new canal across the Isthmus, but although several royal personages in and out of Egypt were anxious to see the proposed work begun, nothing was seriously attempted until 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte directed M. Lepere to survey the route of a canal across the Isthmus. M. Lepere reported that the difference between the levels of the Red Sea and Mediterranean was thirty-three feet, and, that, therefore, the canal was impossible.* Although several scientific men doubted the accuracy of M. Lepere's conclusion, the fact that the level of the two seas is practically the same was not proved until M. Linant Bey, Stephenson, and others examined the matter in 1846. It was then at once evident that a canal was possible. M. de Lesseps laid the plans for a canal before Sa'id Pasha in 1854; two years afterwards they were sanctioned, and two years later the works began. The original plan proposed to make a

* This was the opinion of some classical writers: compare Aristotle, Meteorologica, i. 14, 27; Diodorus, i. 23; and Strabo, xvii. 1, 25. The Arabic writer Mas'udi relates that a certain king tried to cut a canal across this isthmus, but that on finding that the waters of the Red Sea stood at a higher level than those of the Mediterranean, he abandoned his project. (Les Prairies a" Or, t. iv. p. 97.)

canal from Suez to Pelusium, but it was afterwards modified, and by bringing the northern end into the Mediterranean at Port Sa'id, it was found possible to do away with the lock at each end, which would have been necessary had it embouched at Pelusium. The fresh-water canal from Bulak to Suez, with an aqueduct to Port Sa'td, included in the original plan, was completed in 1863. The filling of the Bitter Lakes with sea-water from the Mediterranean was begun on the 18th March, 1869, and the whole canal was opened for traffic on November 16th of the same year. The cost of the canal was about ^19,000,000.

The buoyed channel which leads into the canal at the Suez end is 300 yards across in the widest part. The average width of the dredged channel is about 90 feet, and the average depth about 28 feet. At Shaluf et-Terrabeh the excavation was very difficult, for the ground rises about twenty feet above the sea-level, and the elevation is five or six miles long. A thick layer of hard rock 'cropped' up in the line of the canal, and the work of removing it was of no slight nature. On a mound not quite half-way between Suez and Shaluf are some granite blocks bearing traces of cuneiform and hieroglyphic inscriptions recording the name of Darius. They appear to be the remains of one of a series of buildings erected along the line of the old canal which was restored and probably completed by Darius. At Shaluf the width of the canal is about 90 feet, and shortly after leaving this place the canal enters the Small Bitter Lake, which is about seven miles long. Before reaching the end of it is, on the left, another mound on which were found the ruins of a building which was excavated by M. de Lesseps. Granite slabs were found there inscribed with the name of Darius in Persian cuneiform characters and in hieroglyphics. The canal next passes through the Great Bitter Lake (about fifteen miles long), and a few kilometres farther along it passes through the rock, upon which was built by Darius another monument to tell passers-by that he it was who made the canal. The track of the canal through the Bitter Lakes is marked by a double row of buoys; the distance between each buoy is 330 yards, and the space between the two rows is about thirty yards. At a little distance to the north of the Bitter Lake is Tusan, which may be easily identified by means of the tomb of the Muhammedan saint Ennedek. Shortly after Lake Timsah, or the 'Crocodile Lake,' is reached, on the north side of which is the town of Isma'iliya, formerly the head-quarters of the staff in charge of the various works connected with the construction of the canal. The canal channel through the lake is marked by buoys as in the Bitter Lakes. Soon after re-entering the canal the plain of El-Gisr, or the 'bridge,' is entered; it is about fifty-five feet above the level of the sea. Through this a channel about eighty feet deep had to be cut. Passing through Lake Balah, el-Kantara, 'the bridge,' a place situated on a height between the Balah and Menzaleh Lakes, is reached. It is by this natural bridge that every invading army must have entered Egypt, and its appellation, the 'Bridge of Nations,' is most appropriate. On the east side of the canal, not far from el-Kantara, are some ruins of a building which appears to have been built by Rameses II., and a little beyond Kantara begins Lake Menzaleh. About twenty miles to the east are the ruins of Pelusium. The canal is carried through Lake Menzaleh in a perfectly straight line until it reaches Port Sa'id.

The town of Port Sa'id is the product of the Suez Canal, and has a population of about 12,000. It stands on the island which forms part of the narrow tract of land which separates Lake Menzaleh from the Mediterranean. The first body of workmen landed at the spot which afterwards became Port Sa'id in 1859, and for many years the place was nothing but a factory and a living-place for workmen.

« PreviousContinue »