An integrated structural and stratigraphic study of the Hammam Faraun fault block, Suez Rift, Egypt, provides insights into the rift-initiation tectonostratigraphic evolution of the crustal-scale normal fault blocks. The shallow marine to offshore Tayiba Formation (Lower Oligocene) represents the youngest preserved pre-rift unit, and key stratal surface development indicates that relative sea-level variations exerted a marked control on its stratigraphic evolution. A major sea-level fall, which may have been a regional (i.e. eustatic) event, occurred during the mid-Oligocene and was synchronous with the onset of rifting. A major erosional unconformity (the base synrift unconformity) formed in response to the sea-level fall and defines a series of NNE–SSW- to NE–SW-trending palaeovalleys up to 40 m deep by 500 m wide, which are infilled by continental deposits and volcanic rocks of the Abu Zenima Formation (Upper Oligocene–Lower Miocene). During the rift initiation, palaeovalleys controlled depositional patterns and the evolving fault-controlled topography was insufficient to modify drainage patterns. Through time, however, surface-breaking faults began to exert a marked control on deposition. This study indicates the complexity that can occur during the rift-initiation phase caused by extrabasinal factors such as eustatic sea-level variations and antecedent drainage.