The name “Port Sa’id” is a compound word derived from French, meaning ‘harbour’ and ‘Sa’id’ referring to Egypt’s ruler, Muhammad Sa’id Pasha, son of Muhammad Ali. The city of Port Sa’id was established in 1859 at the entrance to the Suez Canal.
The area where the city has established, northeast of the Delta and overlooking the Mediterranean, was known in previous centuries as the city of al-Farma. It was located on the eastern edge of Lake Manzala, in a barren plain between the lake and the dunes. It lay 28 km from Port Sa’id and was one of Egypt’s important fortresses and trade centres.
The streets of Port Sa’id are characterized by their width, symmetry, and intersections. All the streets are parallel to the canal and they lead from the sea to the desert. In this way, the city acquired a European character, inspired by French urban planning. The city was also lit with gas lamps, and in that sense, it was truly a unique city in its time.
Initially, the city was divided into two main sections, each with its own distinctive features. The first section is the city itself, located directly west of the Suez Canal. Here resided foreign communities as well as a few Egyptian citizens and Arabs. The second section is an Arab city where a larger community of Arabs and Egyptians lived.
Port Sa’id’s urban and administrative blueprint has greatly developed since its inception till the end of the Muhammad Ali’s Dynasty. Now it consists of seven neighbourhoods: Port Fouad, al-Sharq, al-‘Arab, al-Manakh, al-Zuhur, al-Dawahi, and al-Janub.
The city also contains a number of important archaeological monuments, including the old al-Fanar building and its adjacent, al-Abbasi Mosque (the mosque of Khedive Abbas Helmi II), the Saint Eugene Church, and the Suez Canal Authority building.
Suez Canal was the project that began in 1840, when Lenin Bek developed a plan to dig a canal running between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. This would provide a shorter, cheaper means of travel from Europe since it allowed big ships to commute between Suez and al-Farma. He suggested the building of some protrusions at the entrance of the canal on the Mediterranean Sea to protect it from the Nile’s sediments, which are dumped on the sea coast. Several other projects developed by several engineers followed.
On January 5, 1856, Sa’id Pasha issued the second concession firman in which he renewed Ferdinand De Lesseps’ concession to dig the Suez Canal. The first concession was released on November 30, 1854, but it did not specify the location of the port.
On April 25th, the International Committee held a meeting that ended with several agreements, including the decision to build a lighthouse at the entrance to guide incoming ships. The committee also decided to establish many workshops and build all the necessary facilities to construct a bridge running from Port Sa’id and across the sea. This would also serve as a dock for ships to unload their goods. On April 21st, 1859, Delessepes arrived in Port Sa’id, accompanied by Monsieur Mogel Bey, General Director, and Monsieur Laroche, along with other project heads, agents, and one hundred and fifty from sailors, workers and drivers. Monsieur De Lesseps determined that the site was suitable for the canal project.
The Suez Canal was inaugurated during the reign of Khedive Ismail, in a ceremony held in 1869. The Suez Canal Company obtained the right to manage the project and share the profits equally with the Egyptian government. This arrangement ended on July 26, 1956, with Jamal Abd al-Nasir’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company.