What you didn’t know about the Suez Canal

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A woman looks at a new section of the Suez Canal during a media tour in Ismailia, Egypt, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Work on a parallel waterway to allow two-way traffic on Egypt's Suez Canal will be finished in time to allow ships to transit for a gala inauguration at the key trade route on Aug. 6, 2015. With the expansion, the canal authority projects it can double the number of ships transiting daily to 97 by 2023, boosting toll incomes to $13.2 billion. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty) A woman looks at a new section of the Suez Canal during a media tour in Ismailia, Egypt, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Work on a parallel waterway to allow two-way traffic on Egypt’s Suez Canal will be finished in time to allow ships to transit for a gala inauguration at the key trade route on Aug. 6, 2015. With the expansion, the canal authority projects it can double the number of ships transiting daily to 97 by 2023, boosting toll incomes to $13.2 billion. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

Leaders from around the world will come together for the inauguration of the new Suez Canal in Egypt on August 6. The announcement for the project was made in 2014 by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi at the U.N. General Assembly, referring to it as “Egypt’s Gift to the World”.

Sinai, Suez Canal. Photo by: Allan Grey/flickr

Sinai, Suez Canal Allan Grey/flickr

H
ow will the new Suez Canal help?

The new canal will run parallel to the existing one and can accommodate larger vessels. It will double the longest possible parts of the waterway to allow for traffic in the two directions and minimize the waiting time for ships, the Suez Canal Authority said. In spite of its continued traffic, the original Suez Canal had faced problems due to it’s more narrow width. A trial run for the new canal was held on July 25. Three cargo ships successfully sailed through the new canal in the test run, with the heaviest vessel carrying around 159,000 tons of cargo, the Associated Press reported.

Photo by World Economic Forum/Suez Canal Authority

Photo by World Economic Forum/Suez Canal Authority

The July run was the first official test for the canal, held just 12 days before the official inauguration on Thursday. The $8.5 billion project will increase the Suez Canal’s annual revenue to over $13 billion by 2023. The canal authority projects it can double the number of ships transiting daily to 97 by 2023. It will cut the waiting period for vessels from 18 hours to 11 hours, AFP reported.

W
hat exactly is the Suez Canal?

The original Suez Canal is a waterway that connects the Red and Mediterranean Seas. It runs north to south of the Isthmus of Suez in Egypt (an isthmus is a narrow section of land separating two larger land masses or bodies of water). The Suez Canal is the shortest route between Port Said in the Red Sea and Suez in the Mediterranean Sea.

*SC= Suez Canal Cape: Cape of Good Hope ( Data from Suez Canal Authority)

W
ho built it?

The canal dates back to 1874 B.C. in the reign of Senausret III, pharaoh of Egypt from 1887-1849 B.C. Senausret created the canal to link the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea via the Nile River but it was abandoned due to silting. Subsequent rulers rebuilt it from 1310 B.C. to 640 A.D.

Suez Canal in 1880. Photo by Sowr/Flickr

Suez Canal in 1880. Photo by: Sowr/Flickr

In 1854, Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo, and the Ottoman governor of Egypt brokered an agreement to build the current canal. In 1856, the Suez Canal Company was formed and was granted the right to operate the canal for 99 years. Construction began in April 1859, and it was open to navigation on November 17, 1869. The state-owned Suez Canal Authority was established by Egypt to replace the Suez Canal Company [Britain and France were major stakeholders] in the 1950s and has overseen the canal ever since.

W
hat does the Statue of Liberty have to do with the Suez Canal?

Bartholdi's early sketch (National Park Service)

Bartholdi’s early sketch (National Park Service)

French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi made a name for himself by designing the Statue of Liberty. But in fact the design for Lady Liberty was a hand-me-down.

Early in his career, Bartholdi studied art, sculpture, and architecture and embarked on a life-changing trip throughout Europe and the Middle East (including a visit to the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza in Egypt) with some fellow artists from 1855-1856, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

In 1869, the Egyptian government expressed interest in designing a lighthouse for the Suez Canal. Bartholdi designed a colossal statue of a robed woman holding a torch, which he called Egypt (or Progress) Brings Light to Asia. When he attended the canal’s inauguration, however, Bartholdi was informed that he would not be able to proceed with the lighthouse, the NPS said.

Bartholdi was a great supporter of Edouard de Laboulaye’s proposal for a monument representing freedom and democracy be created for the United States, and in 1870 the sculptor began designing the Statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World.”

Bartholdi in his studio (U.S. National Park Service)

Bartholdi in his studio (U.S. National Park Service)

W
ho owns the Suez Canal?

Since 1956, the Suez Canal has been under the control of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), established on July 26th, 1956. The SCA reports directly to the Prime Minister of Egypt.

Photo by: NASA’s ISS Expedition 16 crew/2007/Flickr

NASA’s ISS Expedition 16 crew/ 2007/Flickr

H
ow large is the Suez Canal and who uses it?

When the original canal first opened in 1856, it was 7.62 meters (25 feet) deep, 21.9 meters (72 feet) wide at the bottom, and 60.9-91.4 meters (200-300 feet) wide at the surface. The Canal is about 121 miles in length, and 300 meters (984 feet) wide in length. The Suez Canal brings Egypt about $5 billion annually.

jgmorard/flickr

Photo by: jgmorard/flickr

H
ow can you visit the canal?

Tour groups offer one-day tours from Cairo to Ismailia, located on the banks of the canal. Ismailia is approximately 127.4 km (79 miles) from Cairo and is where the headquarters of the Suez Canal Authority is located. Ferry services and local sightseeing boats are also available at this spot. This area provides the best view of the Suez Canal, Onthegotours.com said.

cairo

Information compiled from history.com, Associated Press, Reuters, Suez Canal Authority, Lonely Planet, Onthegotours, Brittanica.com, AFP, U.S. National Park Service.