Compagnie universelle du Canal maritime de Suez : Carte de l'isthme. dresse sous la direction de Mr. Voisin, Dircteur des Travaux, et d'apres les operations de Mr. Larousse, Ingenier-Hydrographe. E. Andriveau Goujon, editeur, 1869. Grave par Erhard. Paris - Imp. Lemercier.
Canal maritime de Suez

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  • Additional Information
    • Publication Information:
      Lemercier, 1869.
    • Publication Date:
    • Collection:
      David Rumsey Historical Map Collect
    • Subject Terms:
    • Abstract:
      Chromolithograph map, on sheet 119x81, sectioned to 32 panels folded to 24x14, backed with linen. Housed in marbled slipcase with title "Suez Canal" on spine. Map covers eastern part of the Nile Delta. Shows roads and railways. Relief shown by shadings. Insets including profile of the Canal and geological cross section diagram. Seller's label of "Simon Schropp & Co., Berlin" on verso.
      Alexander Johnson: "This excellent, resplendently colourful, large-format work is perhaps the most impressive map ever made of the Suez Canal, which opened for operation in 1869, the year that the map was published. It was issued by the Compagnie universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez, the enterprise responsible for carrying out the mega-project, as a powerful promotional piece celebrating one of history’s greatest technical achievements. In addition to being visually appealing, it is also highly accurate, predicated upon official plans compiled by the project’s managing director, the esteemed civil engineer François-Philippe Voisin. The main map embraces the western half of the verdant Nile Delta, from Cairo up to Damietta; the Suez Isthmus separating the Mediterranean from the Red Sea; plus, the western extremities of the Sinai Peninsula. The Suez Canal is represented by a red line, and is shown to run south from Port Said, on the Mediterranean, down past Ismailia, through the Great Bitter Lake and then connecting to the Red Sea at the port of Suez. Distances along the canal are marked in kms at various intervals. The mapping is highly accurate, predicated upon the latest trigonometric surveys, depicting all cities and major towns, the myriad deltaic channels of the Nile, while the desert mountains beyond are expressed through gradients of smoky shading. Importantly, the map delineates trunk roads and the railway system (marking distances in kms at various intervals), including the Cairo-Suez Railway, completed in 1858 by the legendary British engineer Robert Stephenson. This line proved vital to the construction of the canal. Also, of note is the line of the Cairo-Suez Canal, a shallow, sweet water canal that ran from the Nile to Ismailia and then down to the port of Suez. While this canal was useful for small barge traffic, its primary purpose was to carry fresh water for the use of the canal workers and for making concrete (the Suez region was short of fresh water). Interestingly, the map also labels the numerous archaeological remnants of the canals constructed in Ancient times that traversed the Suez Isthmus and connected to the to Nile Valley. The perspective of the main map is based upon Louis Maurice Adolphe Linant de Bellefonds’ manuscript map, “Carte de l’Isthme de Suez, pour servir à l’intelligence du mémoire sur les communications à établir par l’isthme de Suez entre la Méditerranée et la mer Rouge” (1844, printed Paris, 1855), that was widely admired by the driver of the canal project, Ferdinand de Lesseps. However, the present map is far more detailed and decorative and features many updates beyond both the manuscript and printed versions of Linant’s work. Additionally, the present composition includes several fascinating insets. On the left-hand side are three vignettes; the first depicts the Nile end of the Cairo-Suez Canal while the two diagrams below are profiles depicting the depth of the Suez Canal. The inset on the opposite side of the map contains 6 cross-profiles of the canal taken from various key locations, exhibiting the depth of the channel. In the lower part of the map are three insets detailing the new cities and their extensive port infrastructure that had been constructed as part of the canal project, being: Port Said, the canal’s Mediterranean terminus; Ismailia, the midpoint along the route and home to the Compagnie’s headquarters; and city of Suez, where the canal meets the Red Sea. Finally, and most intriguingly, the large register that occupies the bottom of the composition showcases a sophisticated geological profile of the canal, detailing 11 different types of strata, each in their own bright colour. The process of building the canal allowed geologists to execute the first comprehensive, scientific assessment of the region. The present example of the map also features old manuscript additions in pencil. These consist of a series of place names interspersed from Cairo over and along the Suez Isthmus region; while we cannot discern their precise purpose, they seem to highlight places visited during an itinerary, probably undertaken not too long after the map was published. The present map was an official publication of the Compagnie universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez, likely intended as both a gift for leading investors and political dignitaries, as well as a promotional piece for the canal (albeit an expensive one reserved for the affluent curious). Well designed, technically informative, yet beautifully coloured and decorative, the map would have been considered a ‘triumphal’ memento to celebrating the successful progress and completion of what was the world’s most consequential infrastructure project to date – an achievement worth the sacrifice in blood and treasure. The Compagnie contracted the design and printing of the map to the leading Paris cartographic firm of Eugène Andriveau-Goujon (1832 - 1897), who subcontracted the lithography to Imprimerie Lemercier (Paris). The first issue of the map was published in 1866, before the canal was completed, but when its final route had been determined and when its successful completion was assured. The present second issue, dated 1869, was published the year that the canal was completed and opened for operation, seemingly made as a token of the Compagnie’s appreciation to those who supported the project over the last decade. The 1869 edition is practically identical to the first issue. This lavish production was likely issued in only small print runs. Curiously, during World War I, the present map was still so highly regarded for its clear and accurate rendering of the Suez Canal and the surrounding territory, that the German military issued its own ‘pirate edition’ of the map. During the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915-8), the German and Ottoman armies, from their bases in Palestine, sought to seize the Suez Canal, which would sever Britain’s link to India, as well as imperilling Cairo. Following a credible, yet unsuccessful, strike towards the canal in 1915, the German-Ottoman armies regrouped, planning another assault. The special cartographic office of the Imperial German Army, the Stellvertretender Generalstab der Armee - Kartographische Abteilung [Deputy General Staff of the Army - Cartographic Department], issued an edition of the present map faithful to the original issues, at the beginning of 1917, when a final strike against the Suez was in the works. Undoubtably, copies would have been of great interest to both German and Ottoman field commanders, as well as officials in Berlin and Istanbul. However, just as the copies of the Berlin edition were being unfolded, the British imperial forces mounted a ferocious offensive against the Ottoman-German lines in the Sinai. By the end of February 1917, the theatre of conflict had moved eastwards into Palestine. This pretty much guaranteed that the Suez Canal was safe from further Ottoman-German attacks, as the Central Powers remained on the defensive in the Middle East for the duration of the war. All editions of the map are today extremely rare. The following institutions possess the corresponding editions: Library of Congress (both the 1866 and 1869 eds.); Harvard (1866 ed.); UC-Berkeley (1869 ed.); Universitätsbibliothek Freiburg (1917 ed.); and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (1917 ed.). Beyond that we can only trace a single example as having appeared on the market during the last 30 years."
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