Updated On: December 24, 2023 by Yasmin Elwan
Welcome to the timeless charm of the canal cities in Egypt, where history and culture converge along the serene waterways. This article invites you to embark on a journey through the enchanting cities that have thrived alongside Egypt’s canals for centuries.
From the bustling markets to the tranquil boat rides, discover the unique allure of these canal-side gems that hold stories of ancient civilisations and modern-day vibrancy. Join us as we explore the beauty, heritage, and everyday life that define Egypt’s canal cities, offering a glimpse into the heart of this captivating country.
An Overview of the 3 Canal Cities in Egypt
Canal cities are urban settlements that are built along artificial or natural waterways, such as canals, rivers, or lakes. Canal cities have a long and rich history, as they have been important hubs for trade, tourism, and culture for centuries. Some of the most famous canal cities in the world include Venice, Amsterdam, Bruges, and Stockholm.
However, canal cities are not only found in Europe but also in other regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa, and America. One of the most remarkable examples of canal cities is in Egypt, where three cities are located along the Suez Canal, one of the most strategic and influential waterways in the world.
The History and Significance of the Suez Canal
The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway that connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, dividing Africa and Asia. The canal was opened in 1869, after 10 years of construction, and remains one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
The canal allows ships to travel between Europe and Asia without navigating around Africa, saving time, fuel, and costs. The canal is also a symbol of Egypt’s national pride and sovereignty, as it has been the scene of several wars and conflicts, as well as diplomatic and economic agreements.
The three main canal cities in Egypt are Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said, which are located at the southern, middle, and northern terminals of the canal, respectively. These cities have unique histories, attractions, and challenges, as they have been shaped by the canal and its impact on their development.
Situated at the southern terminal of the Suez Canal, Suez City stands as a historic gateway to the Red Sea, its significance echoing through the annals of time. The city’s roots trace back to the construction of the Suez Canal, a feat of engineering completed in 1869 that revolutionised global maritime trade.
Today, Suez City not only serves as a vital port but also boasts a rich tapestry of historical landmarks and modern developments. The Suez Canal Museum, an architectural gem, narrates the canal’s history with artefacts and exhibits, offering visitors a captivating journey through time. The Suez War Memorial stands as a poignant tribute, commemorating the sacrifices made during conflicts that shaped the region’s destiny.
The Suez Canal Bridge, a marvel of modern infrastructure, provides panoramic views of the canal and the city’s bustling activity. Additionally, the ambitious Suez Canal Corridor Project promises to transform the area into a vibrant economic and industrial hub.
Amidst these historical and contemporary attractions, Suez City welcomes tourists with a diverse culinary scene, offering traditional Egyptian delights. From savoury falafels to aromatic kebabs, the local eateries provide a flavorful experience.
How to Get to the City
To reach this captivating destination, various transportation options are available, including trains and buses, providing convenient access for those eager to explore the city’s rich heritage and modern aspirations.
- From Cairo: You can take a bus from Cairo to Suez, which runs every 30 minutes and takes about 2 hours. The bus is operated by East Delta Travel and costs about $3. You can also take a taxi or a car from Cairo to Suez, which takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes and costs about $20-$25.
- From Sharm el Sheikh: You can take a taxi from Sharm el Sheikh to Suez, which takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes and costs about $100-$130. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Sharm el Sheikh to Ras Sedr, which takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes and costs about $10-$15, and then take a taxi from Ras Sedr to Suez, which takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Ismailia is one of the three main canal cities in Egypt. It is located at the midpoint of the Suez Canal and is the headquarters of the Suez Canal Authority. The city was founded in 1863 by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the canal, as a base camp. It was named after the ruling Egyptian khedive (viceroy) Ismail Pasha, who commissioned the canal project and built an elaborate palace for the gala opening of the canal in 1869.
Ismailia has a rich history and significance, as it witnessed several events related to the canal and its impact on Egypt and the world. For example, Ismailia was the scene of the British suppression of an uprising by rebellious Egyptian police in 1952, which triggered the overthrow of King Farouk and the Egyptian Revolution. Moreover, Ismailia was the target of several attacks during the Arab-Israeli wars, especially in 1967 and 1973.
Ismailia offers many attractions and activities for visitors, as it showcases the cultural and natural diversity of the canal region. One of the main attractions is the Ismailia Museum, which displays a collection of artefacts from various periods of Egyptian history, such as ancient, Islamic, and modern. The museum also features exhibits related to the canal and its construction, such as maps, models, tools, and photographs.
Another attraction is the De Lesseps House, the former residence of the canal’s builder, which is now a museum and a cultural centre. The house preserves the original furniture, paintings, and personal belongings of De Lesseps and his family, as well as documents and memorabilia related to the canal.
Ismailia is also known for its natural beauty, as it is situated on the shore of Lake Timsah, one of the Bitter Lakes linked by the canal. The lake offers a scenic view of the canal and its ships, as well as a variety of water sports and activities, such as sailing, fishing, and swimming.
Ismailia is also home to the New Ismailia City, a planned urban development project that aims to create a modern and sustainable city with residential, commercial, industrial, and recreational facilities. The project is part of the Suez Canal Corridor Project, a mega-project that aims to transform the canal region into a global economic and logistic hub.
What to Eat There
Ismailia has a diverse and delicious cuisine influenced by the canal and its multicultural heritage. The city is famous for its seafood, especially shrimp, fish, and crab, which are prepared in various ways, such as grilled, fried, or cooked in sauces.
The city also offers a range of local and international dishes, such as kebab, pizza, burgers, and pasta, as well as desserts, such as ice cream and pastries. Some of the best restaurants in Ismailia include Hassan Abo Ali for Seafood, Reda Helmy B.B.Q, Alfanar Restaurant, and Flames.
If you’re into mangoes, you’re in for a real treat! Ismailia has earned a reputation for producing some of the finest mangoes in the country. The secret lies in its favourable soil and climate, which create ideal conditions for mango cultivation. Ismailia’s mangoes are celebrated for their exceptional flavour, sweetness, and juiciness.
Varieties like Ewais, Keitt, Nouemi, and Kent thrive here, each offering a unique taste experience. As you explore Ismailia, you’ll encounter mango-themed festivities, including the annual Mango Festival. This vibrant event showcases the city’s pride in its agricultural heritage and invites locals and tourists alike to savour the juicy bounty. So, when in Ismailia, don’t miss the chance to indulge in these delectable mangoes—the epitome of Egyptian summer sweetness!
How to Get to the City
Ismailia is easily accessible by various means of transportation, as it is located about 120 km from Cairo, the capital of Egypt. The city has an airport which offers domestic flights to and from Cairo and other cities in Egypt. The city also has a railway station, which connects it to Cairo and other major cities along the canal, such as Suez and Port Said. The city is also connected by road to Cairo and other destinations via the Cairo-Ismailia Desert Road and the Cairo-Suez Road.
Port Said, situated along the northeastern coast of Egypt, holds a pivotal role as the northern terminal of the Suez Canal. Its establishment dates back to 1859, during the construction of the canal itself. Here are some key points about its history and significance:
- Suez Canal Connection: Port Said owes its existence to the ambitious vision of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer who spearheaded the Suez Canal project. As the canal’s northern gateway, Port Said played a crucial role in connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, revolutionising global trade routes. The city’s strategic location made it a hub for maritime commerce and transit.
- Cosmopolitan Heritage: During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Port Said flourished as a cosmopolitan city inhabited by people from various nationalities and religions. Mediterranean countries contributed significantly to this multicultural community. The city’s tolerance and coexistence earned it a reputation as a global meeting point.
- British Occupation: In 1882, the British entered Egypt through Port Said, marking the beginning of their occupation. The city witnessed significant historical events during this period.
- Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936: In 1936, an essential treaty was signed between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Egypt—the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. This treaty had far-reaching implications for Egypt’s sovereignty and relations with Britain.
Attractions and Activities in Port Said
Port Said offers a mix of historical, cultural, and natural attractions. Here are some highlights:
- Port Said Lighthouse (El-Manara): This iconic lighthouse stands tall at the entrance of the Suez Canal. Built in 1869, it guided ships through the canal and remains a symbol of maritime heritage. Visitors can climb to the top for panoramic views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.
- Port Said Military Museum: History enthusiasts can explore this museum, which showcases artefacts, weapons, and exhibits related to Egypt’s military history. It provides insights into the nation’s struggles and achievements.
- Port Fouad Mosque: Located on the eastern bank of the Suez Canal, Port Fouad is Port Said’s twin city. The mosque is a serene place for reflection and prayer, with its distinctive architecture.
- Mediterranean Seafront: Port Said’s coastline along the Mediterranean Sea invites leisurely strolls, fresh sea breezes, and picturesque views. Visitors can relax on the beaches, watch ships pass by, and enjoy the maritime ambience.
When it comes to food, Port Said offers a delightful culinary experience. Being a coastal city, Port Said excels in seafood. Try dishes like grilled shrimp, fish, and crab. The local catch is fresh and flavorful. Also, explore Egyptian flavours with dishes like foul (bean-based dishes), kebabs, and hummus. Don’t miss out on roast pigeon, a delicacy.
Getting to Port Said
Here are some transportation options that cater to different preferences and budgets, allowing visitors to choose the most suitable mode of travel to explore the vibrant city of Port Said:
- By Bus: Buses connect Port Said to Cairo, with a journey of approximately 2 hours. The bus station is about 3 km from the town centre.
- By Train: Trains run from Cairo to Port Said, taking around 5 hours and 30 minutes.
- By Taxi or Car: Taxi or private cars can take you from Cairo to Port Said in about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
The canal cities in Egypt—Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said—symbolise centuries of human endeavour. From the Suez Canal’s inception to the Mediterranean’s lapping waves, these cities blend heritage and progress. As ships traverse the canal, they carry echoes of engineers, labourers, and generations. These cities bridge continents, weaving past and present.