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Ancient Mesopotamia Trade Route.

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International Harbors

As an Islamic country, bordering the Middle East but actually in North Africa, Egypt is an Arabic republic. Simultaneously, it is altogether different than any other city due to its 5,000 year old heritage, as well as its location and other unique attributes. Through the years, its strategic location has captured the attention of the Greeks, French and English. As a result, the city has many European influences.

At least as early as 1300 B.C. the Egyptians built a navigational canal linking the Red Sea with the Nile River, and indirectly with the Mediterranean Sea. It was used off and on for more than 2,000 years before being permanently abandoned in the eighth century A.D.

After 1500, Europeans revived the idea of an Egyptian canal as a means of eliminating the long voyage around Africa. Nothing was done, however, until the early 19th century when surveys were made.

Both the British and French built important transportation systems that would add considerably to Egypt's exposure to foreign influence. Napoleon briefly invaded Egypt from 1798-1801, the British fleet assisted the Ottomans by sinking the French fleet off the coast of Egypt. This was more a case of Britain not wanting France to establish colonies in North Africa rather than any real affection for the Ottomans.

French diplomat, Ferdinand de Lesseps, while serving in Egypt during the 1830's, became interested in building a sea-level canal across the isthmus. In 1854 he obtained an exclusive concession for the project from the pasha (governor) of Egypt. The concession specified that the waterway be open to ships of all nations and that it be turned over to the Egyptian government 99 years after completion.

Egypt.Ferdinand de Lesseps.

Lesseps organized the Suez Canal Company and raised money by selling stock. More than half the shares were purchased by private investors in France, the rest by the pasha. The digging of the Isthmus of the Suez Canal commenced on the 26th of April, 1859; the first sod was turned by M. Ferdinand de Lesseps in the presence of the contractor of the works.

The English built the rail line between Alexandria and Cairo, along with a telegraph, opening up an important route between Great Britain and India. With the railway came English merchants, clergymen and teachers, middle class girls looking for husbands and the famous world travelelr Thomas J. Cook, who in 1860 organized his first tour to Egypt for thirty-two tourists.

During the mid 1800s, as war raged in the U.S. and European countries almost every European country had citizens living in Cairo. By 1872 there were 300,000 people living in Cairo; 85,000 were non-Egyptians.

Antique Map: Egypt, Africa, Arabia,The Nile. Arrowsmith Mapmakers, 1854Egypt, Africa, Arabia, Nile. Arrowsmith Mapmaker. 1854. Egypt and the Nile.

These foreigners bought with them their own standards and ideas on almost everything, including the houses they lived in, their food, their entertainment and other tastes. These had a great influence on local pashas, merchants and princes, and by the mid 1800s, many Egyptians had also been abroad, and they too bought back new deas of clothing, how stores should operate, what streets should look like and what sort of houses they wished to live in.

Egypt and its cotton production became increasingly important for British trade when the American Civil War broke out from 1861-5. With the freeing of the slaves in the southern United States, supplies of cotton stopped coming across the Atlantic into the ports of Liverpool and Manchester. Egyptian cotton therefore took its place and was shipped back to the industrial factories of northern England to be transformed into clothing for re-sale to the rest of the world.

As more and more land in Egypt was given over to cotton growing for export, local people were forced off the land. The sultan in Istanbul and his governors throughout the Empire were not only aware of the dominance of European trade but actively encouraged it. They were eager to follow Europe's success in the Industrial Revolution and borrowed huge loans from British and French banks to achieve this.

The governor of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, stated in 1879: My country is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe. It is therefore natural for us to abandon our former ways and to adopt a new system adapted to our social conditions.

It is doubtful that the vast majority of the Egyptian people agreed with him.


The Middle Sea. A History of the Mediterranean. John Julius Norwich.

Abydos, one of the most ancient cities of Upper Egypt, is about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) west of the Nile at latitude 26 10' N, at the edge of the Western Desert, inland from the Nile, about three hundred miles south of Cairo.

Abydos is the last resting place of the first kings of the first dynasty, 5,000 years ago. It is the birthplace of the cult of the divine king. It is also the launchpad for the Egyptian cult of death. Abydos is several miles from the Nile, and roughly halfway between Cairo and Aswan: a long way from both ancient Memphis, and the stunning temples of Thebes and Luxor. But Egyptology begins in Abydos, in the first systematic evidence of the Egyptian pact with mortality.

It is where the pharaoh's undertakers buried his ships of the desert - a flotilla of 70ft long planked craft to ferry the dead king to his afterlife - and ritually killed and buried donkeys to carry his goods. They killed and buried his servants, too, to tend him beyond the grave.

Egypt and the Lower Nile. 1897. Bartholomew.

1897. Egypt and the Nile. Bartholomew.

The Egyptian name of both the eighth Nome of Upper Egypt and its capital city was Abdju, the hill of the symbol or reliquary, in which the sacred head of Osiris was preserved. The Greeks named it Abydos, after their city on the Hellespont; the modern Arabic name is el-'Araba el Madfuna. Considered one of the most important archaeological sites of Ancient Egypt (near the town of al-Balyana), the sacred city of Abydos was the site of many ancient temples, including a Umm el-Qa'ab, a royal necropolis where early pharaohs were entombed.

It is here to Abydos, long before Seti-I built his Temple, that the oldest known religious pilgrimages -- millennia ago -- were inexplicably begun, initially from all over Egypt. The earliest stated reason was to pay respects to "Khenty-Amentiu," the reigning deity of this remote "City of the Dead" (a name meaning, incidentally, "First -- or President!) of the Westerners," (i.e. the Dead -- identified as such because they were always buried on the Western side of the Nile). The honorific very early on, according to Egyptologists, became synonymous with "Osiris" himself -- as "Osiris Khenty-Amentiu" -- ultimately, Ancient Egypt's "'President' and everlasting god. Ancient royal tombs were never built on "virgin ground," but always near some older cemetery; the presence of pre-dynastic graves at Abydos could have influenced the decision. But other archaeologists have pointed out that "there are plenty of pre-dynastic burials much nearer to Thinis -- at Salmani, for example ..." so the mystery remains as to this location.

Some have suggested that the answer may come from the mountains lying directly to the West of Seti's glorious Temple, which form the barrier between Abydos and the Great Western Desert itself. In those mountains there is a pass called "Pega-the-Gap," believed by the ancient, pre-dynastic Egyptians to lead directly to the Kingdom of the Dead. As the ancient royal tombs of Abydos lie closer to the mountains (and this gap), its presence some argue may have inspired later kings to build their "Houses of Eternity" here at Abydos on the "edge of Forever."

One coincidence about this explanation involves "Pegasus" -- the well-known Grecian "flying horse" (right), which got us initially involved with Abydos. For Pegasus (as a white horse) is also, curiously, closely associated with the theme of "death" in other cultures, by way of "a steed who carries souls to the Beyond" He is also strongly associated with water -- having (in Greek mythology) ostensibly been born of it. Some scholars believe the Greek name "Pegasus" derives from the ancient Egyptian word at Abydos for the "Sacred Gap in the Mountains that leads directly to the Afterlife." Others believe the Greeks (who "borrowed" heavily from the earlier Egyptians, both in myths and terms) named their "flying horse" after the Pega Spring ... the site of the oldest (c. 2000 B.C.) known shrine to Osiris, also found at Abydos.

Port Said

Ceremony inaugurating the
Suez Canal at Port Said.
November 17, 1869
Edouard Riou

Situated largely on man-made land, and geographically isolated, the city was founded in 1859 on a low sandy strip separating the Mediterranean from Lake Manzala (Buhayrat al-Manzilah). Mud and sand dredged from the harbour and huge artificial stones capable of resisting saltwater action were added to the strip; its breakwaters were completed in 1868, a year before the canal was completed. The city was named after the khedive Mujammad Sa?id (reigned 1854 63), who selected the site of the town.

Consisting initially of a grid-pattern European quarter and a native Egyptian sector, the town early established its cosmopolitan character. The outer harbour, 570 acres (231 hectares) in area, was carefully designed so that its two protecting moles, or breakwaters, prevent coastal currents from silting up the canal. The main channel is 2.5 miles (4 km) long, flanked by open basins. To house workmen of the several huge dry docks built between 1903 and 1909, a new quarter, now named Bur Fu?ad (Port Fuad), was built opposite the city proper on the eastern shore between the canal and the eastern extension of Lake Manzala.

Because of the building of the Canal, Port Said had years of property from fishing and from industries like chemicals, processed food, and cigarettes. The Canal was opened to traffic at a moment when steam propulsion had just become competitive with sail for the shipping of bulk cargo. Adoption of the compound engine, coupled with higher steam pressures derived from better boilers, had tipped the scales. In 1853, out of a total of 10,000 ships on Lloyds' Register, only 187 were steamers.

After 1869 the sailing ship was rapidly displaced on the Passage East, and by the end of the century between four and five thousand ships a year were passing through the Canal. All were steamships, and seven out of ten were British. Port Said is also an important harbour both for exports of Egyptian products like cotton and rice, but also a fuelling station for ships that pass through the Suez Canal.

By the late 19th century Port Said was the world's largest coal-bunkering station, catering almost exclusively to the Suez Canal traffic. After the standard-gauge railway from Cairo via Ismailia was completed (1904), it became Egypt s chief port after Alexandria; in addition to canal traffic, it handled cotton and rice exports from the eastern delta.

In the days before the Canal, mail for India would leave London by train, cross the Channel by ferry, and then continue by rail again across France to Marseilles, where it would be put aboard the P & O steamer. Passengers who could afford to do so traveled the same route, saving at least a week and avoiding the notorious swells and rollers of the Bay of Biscay.

This route was briefly interrupted in 1870 by fighting in the Franco-Prussian War, but subsequently the new Mont Cenis railway tunnel through the Alps enabled the Indian Mail to switch its terminal to Venice. P & O started a shuttle service from there to Port Said, at the mouth of the Canal, where passengers and mail could now be transferred straight onto the ship which would be taking them all the way to the East. Later, the rail connection was extended down the length of Italy to Brindisi, and this remained the itinerary until 1914. By this date the passage by ship all the way from London to Bombay was down to less than three weeks.

The wealth that began in the late 1800s saw development of houses with grand balconies on all floors, giving the city a distinct charm.

July 16, 1899, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

The Olympia Sails from Port Said
Admiral Dewey Expects to Reach New York by the First of October.

Special Cable to The Call, San Francisco and the New York Herald, New York.
Copyrighted, 1899. by James Gordon Bennett.

Historical map of Port Said.

PORT SAID, July 15. The Olympic sailed this morning at 10 o'clock for Trieste. Admiral Dewey is looking remarkably well, and all the others are fairly well. Dewey states that he does not know at present what his next port after Trieste will be. but says that his intention is to reach New York by the 1st day of October. The Olympia took on 1000 tons of coal.

March 14, 1904, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Russians Stop Lloyd Liner.

PORT SAID. March 13. The Russian cruiser Dmitri Donskoi has stopped several vessels at sea including the North German Lloyd liner Stuttgart and demanded to know their destination. She fired across the bows of the British steamship Mortlake at a point twelve miles north of Damietta (thirtyone miles northwest of Port Said) and sent officers on board to inspect the ship's papers.

Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route
(California World History Library)Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.
Stevan E. Sidebotham
The legendary overland silk road was not the only way to reach Asia for ancient travelers from the Mediterranean. During the Roman Empire's heyday, equally important maritime routes reached from the Egyptian Red Sea across the Indian Ocean. The ancient city of Berenike located approximately 500 miles south of today"s Suez Canal was a significant port among these conduits. In this book Steven E. Sidebotham, the archaeologist who excavated Berenike, uncovers the role the city played in the regional local and "global" economies during the eight centuries of its existence. Sidebotham analyzes many of the artifacts botanical and faunal remains and hundreds of the texts he and his team found in excavations providing a profoundly intimate glimpse of the people who lived worked and died in this emporium between the classical Mediterranean world and Asia.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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