Two towns, Damietta and Rosetta, near the sea on the Nile branches, may be expected to prosper greatly, if and when further large areas of the barari land are reclaimed for agriculture. They owe their present size, however, rather to their inheritance from the past, when as maritime -- riverine ports, they were the main Mediterranean gateways to the country than to any present importance as commercial or marketing centers. Although no longer of any consequence as ports, except for a little coastwise sailing-vessel trade, they still contain some survivals of the varied industries that developed in them when they were Egypt's chief entrepots of foreign trade.
Rosetta (Arabic Rasheed), on the west bank of the Rosetta Branch about ten miles from its mouth, occupies the site of an ancient town called Botbitine by the Greeks. Following the silting up of the other western branches of the Nile and of the canal by which the Ptolemies had connected Alexandria with the westernmost, or Canobic, Branch, Rosetta became important as a way station on the overland and water route between the Gulf of Suez and the Mediterranean. It maintained this position until 1820 when Mohammed Ali completed his Mamudiya Canal connecting Alexandria with the Nile. Rice mills along the river wharves and the salting of fish are Rosetta's present principal industrial activities.
Damietta (Arabic Dumyat), on the east bank of the Damietta Branch about eight miles from its mouth, is some four miles upstream from the original town, called Tamiatis in the ancient Coptic language of Egypt. Because of its proximity to the coastal trade routes of the Levant, Tamiatis was a thriving center of trade in silk, linen, dates, fish, and spices, exceeding Rosetta in the volume of its commerce and in its manufacturing industry. In the twelfth century its prosperity was further enhanced by the decline of the old silk-trade center of Tinnis farther east, owing to the latter's partial submergence in the rising water of Lake Manzala. Louis IX of France, the Saint Louis of the Crusades, captured Tamiatis in 1249 A. D. After the French had been driven out, the Mameluke bey governing this section of Egypt destroyed the town and about 1260 relocated it on its present site, less vulnerable from the sea.
As in the case of the other coastal towns, Damietta suffered a decline after Mohammed Ali connected the Nile with Alexandria by his Mahmudiya Canal. But the creation of Port Sa'id, in connection with the construction of the Suez Canal, restored to Damietta a considerable measure of its former prosperity by providing a market and shipping point for its products. A motor road along the embankment that separates Lake Manzala from the sea and shipping on the lake link Damietta with Port Sa'id. Damietta has also profited by the development of the Ras el Barr summer resort at the mouth of the Damietta Branch. Damietta's principal industries today are those of long tradition there -- silk weaving, woodworking, leather working, and the making of confections. Many of their products are famous throughout the country. The importance of Damietta is indicated by its separation for administrative purposes from the province to which it would normally belong. It is one of five urban centers administered as governorates directly under the authority of the Minister of Interior.