The city of Damietta is the capital of the governorate with the same name. Damietta is famous because it's where the eastern branch of the Nile, which is named after the city as well, pours into the Mediterranean Sea. This joining of the river and sea is also the location of the popular local resort of Ras El Barr.
To the southwest of Damietta, there are the wonderful gardens and orchards of the Delta of Egypt and Damietta has long shores overlooking the River Nile and the Mediterranean Sea as well. The Port of Damietta is also one of the most active and important trading points in all of Egypt.
The city of Damietta has many guava farms and more than 2.5 million palm trees that cover a large surface area stretching from Ras El Barr in the east to the small coastal city of Gamasa in the west, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the north up to the Damietta highway in the south. The city has exported more than one million palm trees over a long period of time to several countries around the world including Greece and China.
The Name "Damietta"
The city of Damietta was called Tamiates during the Greco-Roman period. Afterward, during the Coptic period, it was named Tamiata, before the Muslims entered Egypt in the 7th century A.D. Historians and scholars have debated the origins of the name of Damietta for a long period of time. Some scholars believe that "Da-Mat Ptah Ten" was the ancient name of the city, or the city of the god Ptah. Other historians note that there was a city that was located near Palestine and was mentioned during the ruling period of the 12th dynasty that was called Damaty and they believe it is the same city of Damietta we know today.
It was also noted in some historical records that the name Damietta originated from the ancient Egyptian word "Damt" which meant "ability." This was due to the fact that Damietta had the ability to combine the salt water of the Mediterranean Sea and the freshwater of the Nile together in one place. Various theories about the name are believed by different people but the definite reason is not proven at this time.
The Population of Damietta
According to 2003 statistics, Damietta's population is estimated to be around one million one hundred thousand, with around 70% living in the countryside and the rest living in the urban areas in and around the city of Damietta. Declared by the United Nations to be the wealthiest governorate in Egypt due to its many natural resources, fertile lands, and cultivated farms, the population growth of Damietta is estimated to be around 2% per year, which is among the lowest rates in the country.
The Surface Area of Damietta
The surface area of Damietta is around 1,029 square kilometers which represents around 5% of the total surface area of the whole Nile Delta and around 1% of the surface area of Egypt. The area specified for housing in Damietta is estimated to be around half a million square kilometers while the cultivated land exceeds more than 120,000 acres. The most important crops of Damietta are grain, corn, cotton, rice, potatoes, lemon, grapes, and tomatoes.
The History of Damietta
Many historians believe that Upper Egypt was divided into 20 provinces during the Pharaonic times and Damietta was the 17th province of Upper Egypt. The city was called "Tam Heet" or the city of the water or the city of the running water.
When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332, Damietta, like all the other Egyptian cities and regions came under the rule of the Greeks and then the Ptolemies before the Romans ruled over Egypt in the year 30 B.C.
The people of Damietta had many commercial and cultural activities and affairs in partnership with the Greeks as many scientists, writers, and travelers resided in the city to study Egyptian customs and traditions.
A famous battle took place near Damietta when Alexander the Great passed away in 323 B.C., between the military troops of Ptolemy I and the soldiers of the ruler of Macedonia. The Macedonian ruler wanted to take the sarcophagus of Alexander to be buried in his city but he was defeated by the army of Ptolemy I.
Damietta during the Roman Period
The Romans paid a lot of attention to Damietta because they considered the city an important agricultural area that provided them with cereal, flax, and many other crops. The taxes that were imposed on the people of Damietta increased under Roman rule, which made the people feel discontent. There were many revolutions against the Roman emperors.
When the Christian religion was spread in Egypt, many churches were constructed in Damietta, especially during the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine in 325 B.C. The Churches of Damietta were large and important with bishoprics representing them in international religious conferences. The name of Damietta was modified in this period to become Tamiat, which means the northern lands where flax is cultivated.
Damietta Under Arab Rule
When the Arabs took control of Egypt in the 7th Century, the army of the Arabs entered Damietta in 642 A.D. to control the two branches of the Nile, the Damietta Branch, and the Rosetta Branch.
The people of Damietta started converting to Islam and they also began to learn the Arabic language. They started mingling with the Muslims who came from the Arabian Peninsula to reside in Egypt.
During the reign of the Abbasid king, El Mutawakel, in the 10th century, the Romans suddenly attacked Egypt from the direction of Damietta with 300 boats and more than 5,000 soldiers. They were able to capture many Muslims and take a lot of money and weapons. The Romans then went back to their homeland with a victory over the unarmed people of Damietta.
During the first Crusade, soldiers of Europe reached Damietta in 1170 A.D. and besieged the city. The famous Arabian army king and leader Saladin sent an army down the Nile to rescue Damietta. He supplied the inhabitants of the city with weapons and money. Afterward, the armies of Saladin, with the help of the people of Damietta, were to defeat the Crusaders who ultimately had to leave Egypt after being pushed out.
On May 30, 1218, the first troops of the Second Crusade reached Damietta and were able to take control of the city. After ruling over Damietta and fortifying the city for a period of more than 16 months, the Crusaders went to face the armies of El Malek El Kamel near the city of El Mansoura. El Malek El Kamel positioned his army strategically and constructed many fortifications to the south of Damietta. Afterward, the Arabian king negotiated with the Crusaders and asked them to leave Damietta and return to Europe which actually happened and El Malek El Kamel entered Damietta as a victorious army leader.
The Crusaders came back again and attacked Damietta during the Third Crusade in the middle of the 13th century, but the people of Damietta defended their city bravely and pushed them away.
After many defeats around the Nile Delta, Louis IX, the king of France at the time and the leader of the Third Crusade was captured in Mansoura and he left Egypt after he had to pay 400,000 pounds as a ransom.
Damietta in Modern Times
When Mohamed Ali took control of Egypt in 1805, Damietta was one of the major commercial centers in Egypt and there were estimated to be more than 30,000 inhabitants of the city. Ali paid attention to Damietta and began digging many conduits and several bridges to serve the city. Ali aslo established an important textile factory in Damietta.
When the British army occupied Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century, Damietta was taking the first steps toward modernization. However, with the outbreak of World War I, the trading activities in the port of Damietta decreased tremendously. After the end of the war, Damietta flourished again, not only as an important trading center but also as one of the most important furniture makers in Egypt. After the revolution of 1952, Damietta became a separate governorate in the year 1960.