Ismailia

Ismailia, 120 km east of Cairo, 90 km north of Suez and 85 km south of Port Said, is the largest and most immediately attractive of the three main Canal Zone cities. Named after Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, it was built as a depot by the Suez Canal Company in 1861 on the west shore of Lake Timsah (Crocodile Lake), one of Egypt's largest lakes covering 14 sq km. The town is divided by the railway track: the attractive and tranquil Garden City built for the company's European employees to the south; the poorly constructed apartment blocks, financed with Gulf money, to the north. The Sweetwater Canal was dug from its source in Lake Timsah to provide fresh water during the construction of the Suez Canal and the calm water and sand beaches of the lake make Ismailia a popular destination for Egyptian honeymooners. The rare desert-weary traveller who ventures here will find the orchard gardens and trees a delight, and the immaculate villas and tranquil boulevards a pleasure to stroll around. There are some excellent fish restaurants in which to while away the evening and blissful days can be spent sitting on the beach watching ships go by. If you are after high excitement, Ismailia is not the place, but it's certainly ideal for a couple of days of hassle-free downtime.

Ins and outs

Getting there and around

Ismailia's bus station is a few kilometres from town on the ring road across the street from the Suez Canal University, connected to Cairo by frequent buses and services from Turgoman bus station. The train station is in the centre of town. Sharia Ahmed Orabi, outside the station, runs straight down to the lake. Most hotels and restaurants are found in close proximity to the train station, north of the Garden City area.

With its wide tree-shaded pavements, grid-pattern signed streets, and functional traffic rules, Ismailia is a breeze to navigate and most sights can be reached on foot. In summer it's possible to hire a horse-drawn carriage to see the sights. For destinations a bit further away, bicycles can be hired from the streets off Mohammed Ali Quay.

Sights

The
Ismailia Museum
 (established 1932) is in the north of Garden City. This manageably small museum contains some minor ancient Egyptian pieces, including delicate bronze figurines of the Gods, animals and reptiles. However, it is the staggeringly complete fourth century mosaic (which warns of the evils of wine) illustrating myths from Greek and Roman folklore that is the crowning glory. Note the marble pharaonic-style sarcophagus with a Graeco-Roman head spookily supplanted on it. The museum is an interesting half hour's diversion and worth a visit. Permission is necessary from the museum to visit the Garden of Stelae nearby which holds a few pharaonic remnants, mainly from the period of Ramses II, but they are not wildly impressive and can be seen from the street.

A number of minor sights, although comparatively unimportant, are worth visiting while in town. Next to the Sweetwater Canal is the
House of Ferdinand de Lesseps
, which was at one time a quirky museum but is now functioning as a government guest house and is closed to the public. Many of his personal possessions, his diaries and his private carriage remain inside but you'll need permission from the Suez Canal Authority in order to visit.

About 7 km north of the city is the main car ferry across the Suez Canal to Sinai and the
Bar-Lev Line
, an impressive 25-m high embankment built by the occupying Israelis to stall any Egyptian advance across the canal and into Sinai. Although Egyptian forces managed to break through the line at the beginning of the October 1973 war, by using the element of total surprise and high pressure water hoses, the Israeli counter-attack across the Great Bitter Lakes virtually succeeded in surrounding the Egyptian army and, under pressure from the superpowers, both sides were forced to the negotiating table. An unusual memorial of 6 October 1973 is located on the east bank of the canal near the ferry crossing - a fixed bayonet. Also some 7 km south of Ismailia on the west bank is the memorial to the unknown soldier, recalling the First World War.

There are some pleasant public beaches around
Lake Timsah
and picnicking is popular in the park between Lake Timsah and the Sweetwater Canal. It is well recommended to use the private beach and pool on Forsan Island for the day, where you can also rent bicycles. In Garden City is the
Catholic church
built in 1930 to a unique architectural design and the
El-Rahman mosque
, to the west of town, constructed post-1973.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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