PORT-SAID, Vue générale de la Ville
General view of the city
1919 map (nautical chart)
Suez Canal Company Offices
Canal & Navy House
Port Said dates from 1859 and its situation was determined by the desire of the engineers of the Suez Canal to start the canal at the point on the Mediterranean coast of the isthmus of Suez nearest to deep water, and off the spot where Port Said now stands there was found a depth of 26 ft. at about 2 m. from the shore. For many years after its foundation it depended entirely upon the traffic of the canal, being the chief coaling station of all ships passing through and becoming the largest coaling station in the world.
Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911
There were no local resources here. Everything Port Said needed had to be imported: wood, stone, supplies, machinery, equipment, housing, food and even water. Giant water storage containers were erected to supply fresh water until the Sweet Water Canal could be completed. One of the most pressing problems was the lack of stone. Early buildings were often imported in kit form and made great use of wood. A newly developed technique was used to construct the jetties called conglomerate concrete or “Beton Coignet”, which was named after its inventor Francois Coignet. Artificial blocks of concrete were sunk into the sea to be the foundations of the jetties. Still more innovative was the use of the same concrete for the lighthouse of Port Said, the only original building still standing in Port Said. In 1859 the first 150 laborers camped in tents around a wooden shed. A year later, the number of inhabitants had risen to 2000 — with the European contingent housed in wooden bungalows imported from northern Europe. By 1869, when the canal opened, the permanent population had reached 10,000. The European district, clustered around the waterfront, was separated from the Arab district, Gemalia, 400 meters (1,300 ft) to the west, by a wide strip of sandy beach where a tongue of Lake Manzala reached towards the sea. This inlet soon dried out and was replaced by buildings, over time there was no division between the European and Arab quarters.
At the start of the twentieth century, two things happened to change Port Said: in 1902, Egyptian cotton from Mataria started to be exported via Port Said; and in 1904 a standard gauge railway opened to Cairo. The result was to attract a large commercial community and to raise its social status. In particular a sizable Greek community grew up. In 1907, the quickly growing city had about 50,000 inhabitants, among whom were 11,000 Europeans “of all nations”.
Anybody strolling the streets of Port Said cannot help but be struck by the omnipresence of wood in the buildings. Most of them, dating back to the turn of the century, are fronted by three- or four-storey-high wooden galleries, or verandas as they were called at the time. This remarkable architecture is found nowhere else in Egypt – or anywhere else in the world, for that matter – and sadly, it is under threat.
Port Said: Decaying Wooden Verandas Tell the Story of a City.
In the decades after 1869, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea developed into the lifeline not only of the British, but also of the French and Dutch Empires; the harbor town of Port Said at the Mediterranean entrance of the canal became a quasi-obligatory stopover during the journey between the colonies and Europe.
Cosmopolitanism on the Move: Port Said around 1900
PORT-SAID – Bassin de la Compaignie et Panorama
[Company dock & panorama]
Publisher: Isaac Behar
PORT-SAID General View
Publisher: Cairo Postcard Trust