When Egypt was occupied by the French in the 18th and 19th centuries, a private group called the Suez Canal Company was formed to oversee a canal project, an idea that had been attempted in Egypt for centuries (see "Did you know?"). Work on the Canal began on April 25, 1859 but problems with money and politics kept it from being finished until November 11, 1869. The Canal opened to shipping six days later, and the event was marked with a large party, attended by world leaders from around the globe!
So why is the Suez Canal so important? Take a look at a map of Africa if somebody wanted to sail from Europe to Asia, they would have to travel all the way around Africa if it didn't exist!
Further informationAccording to an agreement signed in 1888, the Canal was open and neutral to all who wanted to pass through it, in war or peace. Though it was located in Egypt and maintained by the French, financial problems forced many to sell their shares to British occupiers, and in 1954 Egyptian nationalists demanded Britain give up their rights to the Canal and let Egypt control it. This was known as the Suez Crisis, and the Canal was shut down until the 1957, when it was re-opened with the help of the U.N.
The Canal was also shut down due to the Arab-Israeli wars (beginning with the Six Day War in 1967), and didn't open again until 1975.
ExplorationThough work officially began on the Canal in 1859, Egyptian pharaohs from as long as 4,000 years earlier had begun work on canals to join the Nile to various bodies of water. Pharaoh Senusret II, who began his rule in 1897 BC, is one of the first mentioned who had attempted a project such as this, while French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte found canal remains from as early as 600 BC when he was exploring Egypt in 1799.
Sources & links
"Map of the Suez Canal." World Atlas.com. 9 Nov. 2009. "Suez Canal, Egypt." Encyclopedia of Earth. 19 Oct. 2009. "Suez Canal." MSN Encarta. 19 Oct. 2009. "Suez Canal." Tour Egypt. 19 Oct. 2009. "Suez Canal." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 19 Oct. 2009.