The Egyptian Pharaoh Senusret III may have built an early canal connecting the Red Sea and the Nile River around 1850 B.C., and according to ancient sources, the Pharaoh Necho II and the Persian conqueror Darius both began and then abandoned work on a similar project. The canal was supposedly finished in the 3rd century B.C. during the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and many historical figures including Cleopatra may have traveled on it. Rather than the direct link offered by the modern Suez Canal, this ancient “Canal of the Pharaohs” would have wound its way the through the desert to the Nile River, which was then used to access the Mediterranean.
It’s about to get a major overhaul. The Suez Canal has enjoyed increased traffic in recent years, with roughly 50 ships passing through its waters every day. Shipping tolls allow Egypt to rake in around $5 billion annually, but the canal is still hampered by its narrow width and shallow depth, which are insufficient to accommodate two-way traffic from modern tanker ships. In August 2014, Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority announced an ambitious plan to deepen the canal and create a new 22-mile lane branching off the main channel. Preliminary work has already begun on the $8.5 billion project, which Egyptian authorities claim could more than double the canal’s annual revenue by 2023.