DAMIETTA, a town of Lower Egypt, on the eastern (Damietta or Phatnitic) branch of the Nile, about 12 m. above its mouth, and 125 m. N.N.E. of Cairo by rail. Pop. (1907) 29,354. The town is built on the east bank of the river between it and Lake Menzala. Though in general ill-built and partly ruinous, the town possesses some fine mosques, with lofty minarets, public baths and busy bazaars. Along the river-front are many substantial houses furnished with terraces, and with steps leading to the water. Their wooden lattices of saw-work are very graceful. After Cairo and Alexandria, Damietta was for centuries the largest town in Egypt, but the silting up of the entrance to the harbour, the rise of Port Said, and the remarkable development of Alexandria have robbed Damietta of its value as a port. It has still, however, a coasting trade with Syria and the Levant. Ships over 6 ft. draught cannot enter the river, but must anchor in the offing. Lake Menzala yields large supplies of fish, which are dried and salted, and these, with rice, furnish the chief articles of trade.
Damietta is a Levantine corruption of the Coptic name Tamiati, Arabic Dimyat. The original town was 4 m. nearer the sea than the modern city, and first rose into importance on the decay of Pelusium. When it passed into the hands of the Saracens it became a place of great wealth and commerce, and, as the eastern bulwark of Egypt, was frequently attacked by the crusaders. The most remarkable of these sieges lasted eighteen months, from June 1218 to November 1219, and ended in the capture of the town, which was, however, held but for a brief period. In June 1249 Louis IX. of France occupied Damietta without opposition, but being defeated near Mansura in the February following, and compelled (6th April) to surrender himself prisoner, Damietta was restored to the Moslems as part of the ransom exacted. To prevent further attacks from the sea the Mameluke sultan Bibars blocked up the Phatnitic mouth of the Nile (about 1260), razed old Damietta to the ground, and transferred the inhabitants to the site of the modern town. It continued to be a place of commercial importance for a considerable period, until in fact Port Said gave the eastern part of the Delta a better port. Damietta gives its name to dimity, a kind of striped cloth, for which the place was at one time famous. Cotton and silk goods are still manufactured here.
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