Founded at the start of the Canal excavations, PORT SAID (Bur Said in Arabic) was by the late nineteenth century an important port where all the major maritime powers had consulates. It was long synonymous with smuggling and vice, and the French adventurer Henry de Monfreid was amused by the Arab cafés where “native policemen as well as coolies” smoked hashish in back rooms, supplied by primly respectable Greeks. Nowadays, this bustling city of around 540,000 remains an important harbour and fuelling station for ships passing through the Suez Canal. A faintly raffish atmosphere lingers and its timber-porched houses have something of the feel of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Before the downturn in tourism caused by the global financial crisis and the Egyptian revolution, Port Said had been attempting to lure tourists away from Alexandria by promising better shops and less crowded beaches. These days, however, aside from day-trippers from the cruise liners, foreign tourists seldom visit the city.