Port Said

Port Said (pronounced 'Bur Said') with its grand promenades, dilapidated wooden-balconied five-storey buildings, air of seedy colonialism and perpetual Mediterranean breeze is something of a gem. In 1975, when it was declared a duty-free zone, it began to rival Alexandria (it's Egypt's second largest port and fourth largest city) as a leading domestic tourist destination - a place where cheap shopping and beach lounging could be combined. At the time of writing, predictions are that the government will remove the Extended Free Zone although, being Egypt, this is threatened on a yearly basis without ever actually happening. The appeal for most foreign visitors is strolling along the waterfront while giant supertankers glide past. Come nightfall, the riding lights of container vessels mark the line of their movement.

Ins and outs

Getting there

Port Said is 225 km from Cairo and 85 km north of Ismailia. Most visitors arrive either at the new bus terminal/service taxi depot 3 km west of town or at the railway station near the Arsenal Basin. The city's main streets are Sharia Filistine (Palestine) along the waterfront, and the parallel Sharia El-Gumhoriyya. 
Note 
As this is still a duty-free zone, have passports ready to enter and leave as they are sometimes requested. Do not be perturbed by the mayhem you might witness on exiting Port Said when the customs checks root out would-be smugglers; it's not uncommon for half your fellow passengers to be thrown out of the vehicle with accompanying beatings.

Getting around

It is easy to walk around the main streets near the canal, taxis are cheap and microbuses ply the Corniche and main thoroughfares. Port Fouad is a free ferry ride away.

Sights

The city was founded in 1859 as a harbour and named after Said Pasha (1854-1863) who began the construction of the canal. Like the other Canal Zone cities there is less to see compared with the major tourist destinations but there are several landmark buildings of note. The three shiny green domes of the
Suez Canal Authority Building
on Sharia Mostafah Kamal are the quintessential symbol of Port Said, though off-limits to the public. The light is best on the buildings along the canal in the morning when the now-shabby façade of the Simon Arzt department store, built in 1923 (one of two identical buildings - the other being in Naples), is flushed by the sun. The imposing ochre-coloured lighthouse was the first single concrete structure on the planet and functioned from 1868, the year before the canal opened, until the early 1990s. There is a free ferry (10 minutes) to
Port Fouad
and its yacht basin on the eastern side of the Suez Canal, and thus part of Asia. It retains much of the colonial feel, with quiet residential streets, green spaces, flower-filled gardens and a popular beach. The musical soul of the city remains strong, rooted in Sufi and other traditions; internationally acclaimed bands play the
simsimiya
and
damma
in beach cafés in Port Fouad on some week nights.

The
Port Said National Museum has
 a fine collection of sarcophagi, statues, and two well-preserved pharaonic mummies. The coach used by Khedive Ismail during the inauguration ceremonies of the Suez Canal in 1869 is also here, and worthy of note is a hand-worked shroud and a tunic decorated with images of the apostles.

The
Military Museum
 displays exhibits from the various conflicts fought along the length of the Suez Canal. These include not only the 1956 Suez crisis with some very lurid paintings and dioramas (look for the headless figures in the scene of Nasser at Al-Azhar), but also the successive wars with Israel. The 1973 storming of the Bar-Lev line receives pride of place and is on display in a separate room.

The base of the
statue of Ferdinand de Lesseps
stands on the quay by the canal he constructed. The statue was pulled down in 1956 - no way to treat the person who brought prosperity to the region! It is now in Suez Canal House awaiting resurrection after the French restored it in the 1990s. However, local feeling is against this remounting and its symbolism, and there is talk of it being moved to Ismailia. The size of the plinth gives some indication of the immensity of the figure - look out for old photographs around town of the statue
in situ
to appreciate how the man once dominated the promenade.

Beaches

There is public access to the Mediterranean all along the Corniche and chairs and umbrellas are for hire every few hundred metres. However, this is not a place where Western women can bathe inconspicuously. The Helnan and Sonesta hotels allow day use of their pool and facilities, which is a much less stressful option, plus they clean their own beach-fronts, while the lively cafés on both side of the Corniche are a good mix of Egyptian and continental both in terms of menu and atmosphere.

Cemeteries

These lie to the west of town. Apart from the Muslim and Christian cemeteries, there is one maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with over 1000 graves from the First World War - they are worth visiting and easily accessible by minibus from the start of the Corniche.

Port Said is also the access point for
Lake El-Manzala
, an excellent spot for fishing and watching migrating birds and those that overwinter on the shores.

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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