Decorated initial S

UEZ (suweis), the port of Egypt on the Red Sea and southern terminus of the Suez Canal (see below), situated at the head of the Gulf of Suez in 29° 58' 37" N. lat. and 32° 31' 18". E. long. The new harbors and quays are about 2 miles south of the town, with which they are connected by an embankment and railway, crossing a shallow which is dry at low water: the terminal lock of the fresh water canal is on the north of the town near the English hospital and the storehouses of the Peninsular and Oriental Company.

The site is naturally an absolute desert, and till the water of the Nile was introduced by the freshwater canal in 1863 the water-supply of Suez was brought across the head of the gulf from the “wells of Moses” on the Arabian coast, or else carried on camels, an hour’s journey, from the fortified brackish well of Bir Suweis. Thus, in spite of its favorable position for commerce, Suez before the canal was but a small place. While the canal was in progress the population rose from 5000 to 15,000, but has since declined. The canal, in fact, carries traffic past Suez rather than to it; and with its mean bazaar and mosques and mongrel population the town makes an unfavorable impression on the visitor, save for the imposing view over the gulf, with the Sinai Mountains on its eastern and Mount Ataka on its western shore.

A canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, the indispensable condition for the existence of a prosperous trading station at Suez, appears to have existed in very early times. Classical writers say that it was first planned by Sesostris (Raineses II), and again undertaken by Darius I., but first completed by the Ptolemies (Arist., Meteor., i. 14; Strabo, xiv. 25). The town at its terminus was Arsinoe or Cleopatris. The work was renewed by Trajan under the name Augustus amnis, but the trade from the East with Egypt still went mainly overland from Myus Hormus or from Berenice on the Red Sea, below the Gulf of Suez, to Coptus in Upper Egypt. Instead of Arsinoe later writers name the port of Clysma, which the Arabs corrupted into Kolzum, calling the Red Sea the Sea of Kolzum.

On the Moslem conquest of Egypt the canal was restored, and is said to have remained open more than a century, till the time of Mansur. According to Mas'tidi (Morúj, iv. 98), Harun al-Rashid projected a canal across the isthmus of Suez, but was persuaded that it would be dangerous to lay open the coasts of Arabia to the Greek navy. Kolzum retained some trade long after the closing of the canal, but in the 13th century it lay in ruins, and the neighboring Suez, which had taken its place, was, as Yákút tells us, little better than a ruin. From Mokaddasi, p. 196, it maybe inferred that the name of Suez originally denoted Bir Suweis. Throughout the Middle Ages, as in Roman times, the main route from Giiro to the Red Sea was up the Nile to Kús, and then through the desert to Aidháb.

With the Ottoman conquest Suez became more important as a naval and trading station. Ships were built there from the 16th century onwards, and in the 18th century an annual fleet of nearly twenty vessels (Niebuhr) sailed from it to Jiddah, the port of correspondence with India. When the French occupied the town in 1798, and Bonaparte was full of his canal project, Suez was much decayed, and the conflicts which followed on its occupation in 1800 by an English fleet laid a great part of the town in ruins. The overland mail route from England to India by way of Suez was opened in 1837. The regular Peninsular and Oriental steamer service began a few years later, and in 1857 a railway was opened from Cairo through the desert. This line is now abandoned in favor of the railway which follows the canal from Suez to Ismailia, and then ascends the Wády Tumeilát to Zakázåik, whence branches diverge to Cairo and Alexandria. [22.652-53].


“Egypt.” The Encylopædia Britanica or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature. Philadelphia: Maxwell Sommervile: 1881. 25 vols. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigne Library. Web. 13 August 2020.

Last modified 18 August 2020