Port Said at Glance
Port Said is considered to be the third most important city in Egypt, after Cairo, the capital, and Alexandria. This coastal city resides on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea at the entrance of the Suez Canal in the north.
The Suez Canal and the governorate of Northern Sinai occupy the eastern borders of Port Said, while the city of Ismailia is located to its south, the governorate of Damietta to its east, and the Mediterranean Sea to its north.
The surface area of Port Said is around 1,350 square kilometers with a population that is estimated to be around 700,000 inhabitants. The city has six main neighborhoods with El Arab, Ganoub, El Zohour, and El Shareq being the most important.
Port Said has some remarkable monuments and sites which include the Port of the city, which is the second largest port in Egypt and one of the most important in the country due to its significant location at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal.
There is also the Suez Canal Authority Building which is considered among the most important Islamic constructions in the city of Port Said, the Old Lighthouse, the Military Museum of Port Said, the Port Said National Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art.
The most significant feature of Port Said, distinguishing the city from any other destination in Egypt, is that it has a free zone area where products from all over the world are imported through the Port of the city and sold to customers free from taxes.
This is the reason why it is always recommended to do some shopping to buy different items, especially clothes, makeup, and perfumes while the guests are on a visit to Port Said.
The Name Port Said
The Name of Port Said is derived from two words; the word "Port" and the name of the ruler of Egypt at the time the city was first established; Khedive Said.
An international committee that consisted of the membership of delegates from England, France, Russia, Spain, and Austria chose the name of Port Said in a meeting that was held in 1855.
The Establishment of the City of Port Said
When Ferdinand De Lesseps, the engineer who constructed the Suez Canal, visited the location of Port Said on the 25th of April 1859, there was nothing there except desert located below sea level. The water of the Mediterranean Sea used to flood the whole area in certain seasons of the year.
However, due to its magnificent geographical location, the location was suitable to be the entrance to the Suez Canal, so De Lesseps braved the harsh conditions. He brought the freshwater needed for the workers who dig the Suez Canal from nearby cities like Damietta. Afterward, after the digging of the Abbassa conduit that connected Port Said to the water of the River Nile, finding freshwater was never a problem again in Port Said.
Port Said at the time was isolated from other cities around Egypt and there were no paved roads to connect it to the other regions in the country or any other means of transportation inside or around the city.
This was why during the digging of the Suez Canal a road that ran along the Canal was paved. Moreover, Khedive Abbas established the first railway line that connected Port Said to the city of Ismailia in the South on the 3rd of December 1893.
In the beginning, the engineers and laborers who worked in the digging of the Suez Canal used to live in tents, but De Lesseps got rid of the tents and had wooden huts built, and then stone houses started spreading all over the city step by step.
With the construction of new houses, some neighborhoods started to appear. There were two sections of the city in the early stages of its construction; one for foreigners and the other for the Egyptians. Afterward, the city was officially divided into these two sections in 1867 with the Mohamed Ali Street situated between them.
After the opening of the Suez Canal on November 17, 1869, more inhabitants started to settle in the city of Port Said and the European engineers and Egyptian laborers who worked in the construction of the canal brought their families and they formed a new, distinctive community.
The Old Community of Port Said
People from different backgrounds, several races, and multiple nationalities were living peacefully side by side in different neighborhoods of Port Said. According to the first census of 1882, Port Said had a population of 17,580, with foreigners numbering around 3000 from different countries like Britain, Greece, Italy, France, and Turkey.
The Greek community was the largest in Port Said because around 5,000 Greek workers traveled to the city to work in the digging of the Suez Canal and some of them remained after the opening of the canal and they started the first market to be ever established in the city.
The second-largest community was the Italian and most of them arrived in Port Said after the opening of the canal. They worked in operating hotels, bars, restaurants, and candy shops.
The British community, on the other hand, expanded after Britain bought a large portion of the shares of the Suez Canal and with the British occupation of Egypt which started in 1882. The British population increased even more as time went on and British individuals owned much of Said's shipping companies and operated its numerous banking services.
The houses in the Arabs neighborhood, where the Egyptians once lived, were simple and made out of wood with smaller shops that sell a limited collection of basic products. There were no means of entertainment in this neighborhood except for some oriental cafes that offer hot drinks and the famous shisha, the Egyptian water pipe.
The Egyptian community in Port Said was divided according to the origins of the inhabitants as workers from Upper Egypt gathered with their families in the same location, while workers from Delta resided in another section of the Arab neighborhood.
Port Said Today
Today, Port Said has become a modern city with all sorts of services and facilities available for the guests of the city. A large number of hotels and resorts have been opened on the shores of the Suez Canal. Many tourists arrive in the city in large ships during their journey in the Mediterranean Sea to spend two or three days in Port Said to take a tour of the city and go shopping in the free zone area.
The Old Lighthouse of Port Said
The Old Lighthouse of Port Said is considered among the most important monuments in the city with an important historical significance because it was the first building to be constructed with concrete iron and cement in the whole world. The Lighthouse was built in 1869 in the reign of Khedive Ismail to guide ships passing through the Suez Canal which was opened in the same year as the lighthouse.
The Port Said Lighthouse has an octagonal shape and is around 56 meters in height. It once had an enormous ball at the top of the structure that was used to determine the time of the day. It used to tell the time three times a day. The first was at 8 in the morning, the second was in the middle of the day, and the last time was at 4 in the afternoon.
The Suez Canel Authority Building
The Suez Canal Authority Building, constructed in 1895, is one of the remarkable monuments of the city of Port Said, as the first structure to be erected on the shores of the canal in the city. The building is used as the headquarters of the authority and the administration of the Suez Canal and to monitor the passage of ships through the canal.
The building is featured with its wonderful architectural design and its notable position on the shores of the Suez Canal and it became a landmark of the city of Port Said afterward.
The British authorities bought the building during World War I to be a stronghold for the British army in the Middle East before the evacuation of the British from Egypt in 1956 and the ensuing nationalization of the building by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president.
The Base of the Statue of De Lesseps
The Base of the Statue of De Lesseps is located at the end of the Palestine Road at the end of the famous De Lesseps aisle in Port Said. The statue was created in 1899 and it is recorded as one of the important monuments of Port Said listed in the records of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.
Egyptian revolutionists removed the statue of De Lesseps from its base on December 23, 1956, when the people of Port Said succeeded in preventing the armies of Britain, France, and Israel from entering their beloved city, a date that has become the national celebration day of Port Said from then on. The statue remained in the storehouse of the Authority of the Suez Canal from 1956 until today, and there are frequent and ongoing debates concerning if the statue should be repositioned in its original location or not.