The Opening of the Suez Canal

Few events can have transformed the flow of goods and people to the same extent as the Opening of the Suez Canal achieved upon its completion and opening. This contemporary print shows the French Mediterranean Fleet gliding through the desert canal upon its opening in November 1869. The fact that the French were rivals to the British and had played such a key role in providing finance and expertise to the Egyptians rankled with British strategic planners. The fact that the French fleet could move so rapidly from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean deeply concerned the Royal Navy and the politicians in Whitehall.

The cost of the opening ceremony was more evidence of the profligacy of the regime. De Lesseps spent a staggering 2 million pounds on lavish ceremonies which culminated on November 17, 1869, with the French imperial yacht leading a procession of ships from Port Said to Suez and back.

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by Stephen Luscombe