Suez Canal blocked: How deep is the Egyptian trade route, why is the Ever Given stranded and more

The grounding of the Golden-class container ship the Ever Given in the Suez Canal, causing the vessel to drift sideways and block both north and south-bound freight traffic, has brought sudden international attention to the celebrated waterway connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea.

The 120-mile man-made passage was originally constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869 but the idea’s origins go back as far as Ancient Egypt, the goal the same then as it was for the Victorians: to open up global trade between the east and west.

Pharaoh Senusret III is thought to have built a precursor connecting the Red Sea with the Nile River as long ago as 1850 BC, while the later Pharaoh Necho II (610-595 BC) held similar ambitions that went unrealised until the Persian conqueror Darius (522-486 BC) completed it and proclaimed: “When the canal had been dug as I ordered, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, even as I intended.”

Herodotus reported that 120,000 men were killed in Necho’s attempt and that Darius’s finished “Canal of the Pharaohs” between the Nile and the Great Bitter Lake was broad enough to allow two galleys to pass each other with their oars extended without colliding.

It was restored by Ptolemy II Philadelphus in 270 or 269 BC, before the gradual receding of the Red Sea coupled with persistent accumulations of silt from the Nile meant its use fell away over the centuries.

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