Canal Zone

The Canal Zone encompasses three governorates, Port Said, Ismailiya, and Suez. The three were primarily built during the 19th century during the construction of the Suez Canal. Port Said is the northern entrance of the Canal, and Suez lies at the southern end of the Canal.

We will write more about the history of the Suez Canal insha’Allah in a later post.

Map of the Canal Zone in 2011.

Port Said

Founded in CE 1859 at the start of the Canal excavation; it was synonymous with vice and smuggling, both police and cafe regulars smoked hashish in the back rooms. Nowadays this governorate – of 570,768 (2006 census) – thrives on being a duty-free port as well as a summer resort for Egyptians.

The northern entrance to the Suez Canal. By Daniel Csorfoly.

Port Said is much calmer than other beach cities in Egypt and lacks the hustlers usually reserved for more touristy places like Cairo and Luxor and that makes it a very agreeable place for a day or two of relaxation.

Port Said came under vicious attack from France and Britain after the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, while Israel attacked Sinai. The city was all but destroyed during the Anglo-French attack; but it persevered and the resistance was equally determined to fend off the attackers.

The Suez crisis, which precipitated the decline of France and Britain as world superpowers, killed 1,250 Egyptians — most of them civilians — as well as 231 Israelis, 22 Britons and 11 Frenchmen. (The Daily News, October 2006)


Founded in 1863 – during the construction of the Suez Canal – by Khedive Ismail the Magnificent; after whom the city is named. It lays in the northeast of Egypt on the west side of the Suez Canal approximately half way between Port Said and Suez.

Tne Ismailiya Museum.

Over the years the city has been restored to what it might have looked like in the 30s, with its leafy boulevards and colonial villas. Ismailiya is the most European of all the Egyptian governorates and cities; the garden city was built for foreign employees of the Suez Canal Company. It still has a large number of buildings dating from British and French involvement with the Canal. Most of these buildings are still used by Canal employees and officials.

Ismailiya has several attractions, besides the cleanliness and serenity of the place, it has some great points of interest: It is home to Lake Timsah (Crocodile Lake) with plenty of beaches and perfect windsurfing and waterskiing, Al Mallaha Park offers 500 acres of exotic shrubs and trees to wander through; and a nice stroll alongside the shady Sweetwater Canal does wonders for the mind and body.

Other attractions include the House of Ferdinand de Lesseps the Engineer behind the Suez Canal, and the Ismailiya Museum.

Ismailiya was the birthplace of Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Suez (As-Sways)

Suez is an ancient city at the northern tip of the Red Sea at the Gulf of Suez, and has been a very important port city since the time of the Pharaohs. It marks the southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

The Suez Canal. Brooklyn Museum Lantern Slide Collection.

In the 7th century a town (known as Clysma or Qolzum) near the site of present-day Suez was the eastern terminus of a canal linking the Nile River and the Red Sea. In the 16th century Suez was a Turkish naval station. This little town also gave the Red Sea its original name of Bahr Al-Qolzum, it was later attached to the growing town of Suez, eventually to become a part of it.

Suez’s importance as a port increased after the Suez Canal opened in 1869. The city was virtually destroyed during battles in the late 1960s and early 1970s between Egyptian and Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula. The town was deserted following the Third Arab-Israeli War in 1967. Reconstruction of Suez began soon after Egypt reopened the Suez Canal, following the October 1973 war with Israel.

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