Ferdinand de Lesseps

Ferdinand de Lesseps, diplomat, creator of Suez,the pioneer behind

Ferdinand de Lesseps was born in Versailles, on November 19th 1805. His father, Mathieu de Lesseps, who was a diplomat, was on leave at the time.

On his father's side, Ferdinand's roots firmly lay in the Basque Country, where for many generations, his family had been highly respected, with distinguished soldiers and lawyers in the town of Bayonne. In the 18th century, however, somewhat more adventurous tastes appeared in the Lesseps family. Barthélemy de Lesseps, Ferdinand's uncle, still young himself, got to know the French explorer La Pérouse and set sail aboard the Astrobale. After a two-year voyage, La Pérouse appointed de Lesseps to return to France to tell the king Louis XV all about the expedition. Barthélémy then started a 14-month odyssey across the icy wastes of Siberia before giving to the king the lastest news received from La Pérouse expedition before its disappearance.

Mathieu, Ferdinand's father and Barthélemy's younger brother, started rather young a diplomatic career which lead him around the Mediterranean sea, in Morocco, Libya and Spain. In 1803 or 1804, Napoleon appointed him "Commissaire Général" in Egypt. With an outstanding perspicacity, Mathieu, at once realised the important role the brilliant adventurer Mehemet-Ali could play in Egypt's government. Indeed, Mehemet-Ali would become the real founder of the modern Egyptian State. Lesseps supported Mehemet-Ali all along his rise to power. When Mehemet-Ali became viceroy, Lesseps guaranteed him the support of France. The friendship forged then was to be extremely useful to Ferdinand, some 50 years later.

His mother was born Catherine de Grivegnée and came from a family settled in Spain, but with Flemish origin. Ferdinand often travelled to Madrid to visit his cousin, the Countess of Montijo. He met there the young Eugénie, who would become the Empress of France.. Ferdinand formed a close friendship with Eugénie and on several occasions Ferdinand turned to his niece to win the Emperor's favour. Eugenie for her part followed the advice which her uncle lavished on her.

The diplomat

When he was 20, at the request of his uncle Barthélemy, Ferdinand started a diplomatic career. By his uncle's side, he became a diplomatic attaché in the French embassy in Lisbon for two years. He then spent a few years with his father who was chargé d'affaires in Tunis.

In 1832, Ferdinand was appointed as vice-consul in Alexandria in Egypt. By then, Mehemet Ali had already thoroughly transformed his Country. His ambitious policy had given the country modern institutions and Egypt was involved in major projects with the help of European engineers and administrators, a very large number of whom were French.

In 1835, he is appointed consul général in Alexandria where he stayed for a further two years. Mehemet Ali then asked him to educate one of his youngest sons, Mohammed Saïd, with whom he got on particularly well. bien.

In 1837, Ferdinand married Agathe Delamalle who was to die in 1853 and whom he had five children.

He continued his consular career in The Netherlands and Spain. In 1849 he was appointed to lead negotiations during the French campaign in Rome. He became the scapegoat for the failure of the Rome mission and his diplomatic career was over.

The creator of Suez

For several years, Lesseps became a farmer. through his mother-in-law, Mme Delamalle, had purchased a large property in the Indre district. The manor, La Chesnaye, an old residence of Agnès Sorel, needed renovated and the land improved. Lesseps became seriously involved in this activity. In his spare time, he continued working on the files he has initiated during his first stay in Egypt, between 1832 and 1837. Among them was work which had been undertaken in the Suez isthmus, in particular a survey made by Le Père during the Napoleonic campaign as well as complementary investigations by a French engineer, Linant de Bellefonds. Lesseps was still enthusiastic with a project which, at the time, was called "Canal des Deux Mers" (Two Seas Canal). In 1852, he had even written an report on the project which he had made translated into Arabic and submitted to the viceroy Abbas Pacha. But this initial attempt unfortunately came to nothing.

Two years later, Lesseps learned than Abbas Pacha had just died and that one of Mehemet Ali's youngest sons had succeeded him - Mohammed Saïd, whom he had got to know well during his first stay in Egypt. He wrote to him at once, offering his congratulations. By return post, Lesseps received from Said an invitation to visit Egypt. On 7 November 1854, he disembarked in Alexandria. he took with the viceroy the project which so gripped him.

On 30th November 1854, Mohamed Saïd granted "his friend Ferdinand de Lesseps exclusive powers to form and lead an international company to cut through the Suez isthmus and to operate a canal between the two seas".

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After three years of constant work and steps, on 15 December 1858, Lesseps finally
set up the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez. The first ground was broken on 25th April 1859. Despite a multitude of technical and diplomatic difficulties, the
canal was finally completed and inaugurated between 17th and 20th November 1869.

Just after the inauguration, in Ismaïlia, Ferdinand married his second wife Louise-Hélène Autard de Bragard, with whom he would have 12 children.

The pioneer of Panama

was in 1879 during a geographical conference that Lesseps, then aged 74, became chairman of the French committee in charge of realising an inter-oceanic canal in Central America. But this project would not know the same success as the Suez Canal for it came to a temporarily failure, with political and financial scandals.

The foundations laid by Lesseps in Panama however were solid enough to enable the United States to take over the project and complete it in the early 20th century. Still today, the name Lesseps commands much respect in Panama

Lesseps has been elected as member ofAcadémie Française on February 21
1884 and was welcome in this prestigious institution on April 231885, by Ernest
Renan. he had also been decorated Grand Croix de la Légion d'Honneur.

He died on 7 December 1894 in La Chesnaye. He was given national funeral and was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.


Les imaginaires du Canal de Suez : Représentations littéraires et culturelles (1858-1975)
04 November 2018
Colloque à l'université du Caire, 4-6 novembre 2018

Ce colloque international et interdisciplinaire traitera des représentations littéraires et culturelles du canal de Suez entre 1858 et 1975.

Ouvert à tous, les frais d'inscription sont de 100€.

Hélène Braeuner et Arnaud Ramière de Fortanier y partagerons leur communication.

Voir le programme.

Les Arenberg.
26 October 2018
au musée de Louvain, du 26/10/2018 au 20/01/2019

Le musée de Louvain a imaginé retracer l'importance de l'histoire de cette maison princière par une exposition. Une partie sera dédiée à sa puissance économique. L'histoire du canal de Suez y a sa place par la présence du Prince Pierre Auguste d'Arenberg, président de la Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez. (1896-1913)

L'association prête à cette occasion un tableau de ses collections: François Barry, le chantier N°5, vue du canal de Suez.

Marseille et "L'épopée du canal de Suez"
19 October 2018
au musée d'histoire de la ville, du 19 octobre 2018 au 31 mars 2019

"L'épopée du canal de Suez"de l'Institut du monde arabe à Paris se poursuit par une exposition au musée d'histoire de la ville de Marseille du 19 octobre 2018 au 31 mars 2019. 

La revue"Marseille", revue culturelle trimestrielle de la ville prépare son prochain numéro sur le thème: Marseille et l'Egypte.

Nous attendons nos amis et adhérents nombreux le soir du vernissage jeudi 18 octobre à 18h 30. Cette inauguration sera précédée d'une visite de la chambre de commerce et d'industrie, fleuron de la puissance commerciale marseillaise au XIXème siècle. 

Nous nous retrouverons au Mucem vendredi 19 pour une visite du musée et de l'exposition "connectivités".

Un colloque est en cours de programmation pour mars 2019.



Enquêtes orales: formation des enseignants
19 October 2018
avec le recteur Philippe Joutard.

Vendredi 19 octobre 2018, le recteur Philippe Joutard, administrateur de l’association,

directeur scientifique de ses travaux d’enquêtes orales a dirigé une journée de formation

au musée d’histoire de la ville de Marseille pour une quarantaine d’enseignants de lycée professionnel.

Après une visite de l’exposition « Marseille et l’épopée du canal de Suez » avec Ann Blanchet, directrice adjointe du musée, le recteur Joutard a présenté

des méthodes d’enquêtes orales, leur pédagogie et application pratique pour des élèves en classe de français et d'histoire.

Visiter l'exposition
16 May 2018

Si vous souhaitez visiter l’exposition “L’épopée du canal de Suez” lors des visites proposées les :

Mercredi  16 mai   10h15
Mardi 22 mai         19h
Jeudi 24 mai         10h 15
Mardi 29 mai        10h 15
Mardi 5 juin          16h

Merci de bien vouloir vous inscrire en cliquant ici


"Canal de Suez : chantier de l'extrême"
26 January 2017

 Documentaire réalisé par Johanna Gauterie, avec l'aide de l'Association Lesseps Suez, diffusé le jeudi 26 janvier 2017 à 20H50 sur RMC Découverte (canal 24).

Visite du président Hollande en Egypte
17 April 2016
Le projet d'exposition sur le canal de Suez à l'Institut du Monde Arabe à Paris pour 2018


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