17 November: The Suez Canal officially opened on this day in 1869

The story of the Suez Canal isn’t actually modern history. The Romans themselves had tried with determination to facilitate transportation across the Mediterranean. Pity, though, that the isthmus they built wasn’t as determined as them and silted up during the Byzantine Empire. In later times, Napoleon also became obsessed by the Canal idea, but was wrongly advised by his scientists who told him that the Red Sea was higher than the Mediterranean. And so we reach 17 November 1869, a date which marked not only the inauguration of a waterway, but also of a world powder keg. Almost a century later, from 1967 to 1975, the Canal was closed: those were the years of the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel.

This closure came at the expense of 14 ships that remained trapped in the Suez Canal for eight years. The tide of history ebbs and flows, but the Canal silted up for a second time: the stranded ships were nicknamed “The Yellow Fleet”, after the desert sand that coated them, because, seen from afar, they looked like desert dunes. A mirage? Not exactly. The officers and crews set up a small, mutual support community, with a church, a soccer pitch and a cinema.

Our own architects are also grounded and hard at work with their pencils and rulers: they still need to add a restaurant, swimming pool and wellness centre to this Red Sea cruise ship. Until all these facilities are ready (and shipshape) our vessel will have to stay put…

Name Day:
St Elizabeth of Hungary