Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.
This edited article about the Suez Canal originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 775 published on 20th November 1975.
For thousands of years men turned over in their minds the possibility of joining the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea by a canal. In ancient times a small waterway was dug and the idea was never forgotten.
During the 19th century, France took the lead in plans for the construction of the present Suez Canal. The driving force behind de scheme was Ferdinand de Lesseps, a man whose determination made headway against overwhelming odds.
The Khedive of Egypt consented to the proposed Canal and to the formation of a company to finance it. But shares in the company were slow to sell, people believing that the enterprise would fail and they would lose their money. Britain, in particular, was not interested in investing in the project, and it was only saved by the Khedive agreeing to buy the remaining shares himself.
Work began in April, 1859, and the 100-mile Canal was opened by the Empress of France on the 16th November, 1869. Only then did the world realise the significance of what had been achieved.
The Prime Minister of Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, realised the opportunity Britain had missed.
In November, 1875, Disraeli heard that the Khedive’s shares were to be sold and, against the wishes of his most important ministers, but with the support of Queen Victoria, he decided that Britain should buy them and have her interests represented in the administration of the Canal.
The Suez Canal has continued to figure prominently in world history. In 1956, President Nasser of Egypt announced that the Canal was to be nationalised. Fearing that this vital link between Europe and the Far East might be severed or made unworkable by he Egyptians, the British and French governments decided to take military action and occupy the Canal zone, and this situation was further complicated by an Israeli attack on Egypt. After a period of international tension, the United Nations stepped in and Britain and France withdrew