Suez Canal

The Suez Canal connects the Arabian and Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The canal is one of the two most important human-engineered waterways in the world.


Think your remodel took a long time? Or your software project went horribly over time and budget? Maybe a movie took too long to make? North Korea has been building the Ryugyong Hotel since 1987 and it’s nowhere near complete. The Suez Canal is far worse.

The Suez Canal is the hands-down winner for projects that went over time and over budget. Pharaoh Senusret II, or maybe Ramesses II, started the canal. Completion was in 1869, about 3700 years later.

Worldwide interest in the never-ending construction project never waned. Aristotle wrote about the canal and so did Pliny the Elder, a Roman, about 350 years later. The Suez Canal took so long to complete that the earliest parts are archeological artifacts.

All the usual suspects slowed down the project. There were political, social, economic, and engineering hurdles. Also, some less usual problems including invasions, the replacement of Egyptian political and religious society, and possibly divine intervention.

Colonial Times

During colonial periods Venetians, French, and Ottoman’s thought about finishing the canal but nobody got around to it.

Finally, the British, in 1830, took up the project in earnest. F.R. Chesney reported no difference in elevation between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, making the completion of the Suez Canal a genuine possibility. Somehow, the French became involved. Ferdinand de Lesseps received permission from the then ruler of Egypt to create the canal and a guarantee to operate it, as a private company, for 100 years.

After lots of sniping between Britain and France, in which Britain objected to French labor conditions (while simultaneously working to addict over ten million Chinese to opium), the canal opened in 1869.

Eventually, the British unofficially took control of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire primarily to control the canal. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser nationalized the canal, blockaded it, sparking a war with Israel that Egypt lost. The UN intervened and eventually secured the canal as a shipping route available to anybody.