The Canal that Darius built

The modern day Suez canal in Egypt opened on 17 November 1869, brought a welcome thoroughfare connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. It offers watercraft a shorter journey between the North Atlantic and northern Indian Oceans via the Mediterranean and Red seas by avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans, in turn reducing the journey by approximately 7,000 kilometres.

A lesser known fact is that the Suez canal of today is an ancient concept. The legendary Sesostris (likely either Pharaoh Senusret II or Senusret III of the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt) may have started work on an ancient canal joining the Nile with the Red Sea (1897 BC – 1839 BC), when an irrigation channel was constructed around 1850 BC that was navigable during the flood season, leading into a dry river valley east of the Nile River Delta named Wadi Tumelat. It was called the Canal of the Pharaos. A later canal, probably incorporating a portion of the first, was constructed under the reign of Necho II around 600BC, but the only fully functional canal was engineered and completed by Darius I of Persia 500 BC.

To celebrate this achievement, Darius erected five monuments in Wadi Tumilat, named Darius the Great's Suez Inscriptions. The monuments contains texts written in Old Persian, Elamite, Babylonian and Egyptian, commemorating the opening of a canal between the Nile and the Bitter Lakes. The monument, also known as the Chalouf stele, records the construction of a forerunner of the modern Suez Canal by the Persians, a canal through Wadi Tumilat. The stated purpose of the canal was the creation of a shipping connection between the Nile and the Red Sea, between Egypt and Persia. The surviving inscriptions read:

"King Darius says: I am a Persian; setting out from Persia. I conquered Egypt. I ordered to dig this canal from the river that is called Nile and flows in Egypt, to the sea that begins in Persia. Therefore, when this canal had been dug as I had ordered, ships went from Egypt through this canal to Persia, as I had intended."