Friday, April 19

The delusional plan to create a supercontinent with Europe and Africa: a mega-dam in Gibraltar to drain the Mediterranean

Architect Herman Sörgel was not convinced by the world he lived in, so he decided to change it. Literally. At the end of the 1920s he took paper, a ruler, a bevel and, with more desire than means and support, he redrew the planet. Literally. Atlantropa emerged from his work table, surely one of the greatest engineering projects conceived in the 20th century.

Today Sörgel’s ideas would shake any engineer or politician with a minimum of environmental awareness, but in the first half of the 20th he reached a certain predicament. While he never even came close to materializing, he did spark debates and, like all great projects, he garnered supporters, skeptics and detractors, flattery and teasing.

What exactly was he suggesting?

Well redraw the mediterranean sea to create a single gigantic continent with what we now know as Europe and Africa. How? Well, partially drying out the Mare Nostrum.

As it is.

Objective: redraw the world

Herman Sorgel

Architect Herman Sorgel.

What Sörgel proposed was to build enormous dams between the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea, masses that would allow the sea level to drop between 100 and 200 meters in a century, a good pinch if we take into account that the average depth of the Mediterranean is around 1,500 m and in the Strait of Gibraltar the figure ranges between 280 for Umbral de Camarinal and 900 for Algeciras.

Due to its location, as a gateway to the Atlantic, the largest of these gigantic concrete titans would be located in Gibraltar. There Sörgel projected —he remembers The vanguarda dam crowned by a 400-meter glass and steel skyscraper, even larger than the Empire State Building.

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The Strait of Gibraltar would not be the only mass in the Mediterranean.

The maps drawn by the German architect contemplate almost a dozen hydroelectric power plants spread over strategic points, such as the Dardanelles Strait or the Suez Canal. According to Sörgel’s calculations, his turbines would generate a huge amount of energy with which Europe and Africa could be supplied and hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created.

In addition to the mega-dams, it contemplated new infrastructures to improve communications between Europe and Africa, such as a tunnel in the Strait of Gibraltar and road and rail links. The very physiognomy of the Mare Nostrum after the brutal desiccation would help to suture the territory and unite populations. As the water level dropped, it was expected, for example, that Sicily would be connected to the continental strip of Italy and Majorca and Minorca would end up joining.

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If his pharaonic project had obtained the necessary support and been carried out, our maps today would be quite different. To begin with, we would have reclaimed some 660,200 square kilometers from the sea, more than the surface of Ukraine, and the Mediterranean would be divided into two basins: one with a depth of less than 100 meters and the other with 200 meters. desalinated to irrigate the Sahara and generate new fertile land.

“A second artificially created ‘Nile’ in West Africa would irrigate the Sahara desert and make it fertile, while Congo and Chad would be dammed up to form vast inland seas of almost a million square kilometers! A geopolitical project of superlatives! !”, explains an article from the Deutsches Museum, which in 2018 prepared an exhibition with documents from Atlantropa.

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We would probably also be suffering its most damaging consequences. The brutal modification of the Mediterranean that Sörgel proposed would have a draft environmental impact, would cause flooding in other low-lying parts of the globe and expose the territory to natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes. Its economic impact on certain ports would also be tremendous.


Recreation of how it would be part of the Mediterranean if Atlantropa had been developed.

The big question at this point is: Why? What led Sörgel to propose Atlantropa?

Although the German architect was a child of his time and had a clear colonialist vision, the most curious thing is that his main objective was not to achieve power or wealth. Or not alone, at least. His project was born in the interwar period —with the still very vivid memory of the First World War and Nazism on the rise— and what he was looking for was, in a certain way, prevent another war disaster.

With its enormous size, Atlantropa would help create new jobs, reduce unemployment, guarantee the energy supply and attract investment that could not be used for a new war. In geopolitical terms, the new supercontinent would help balance forces and reinforce the weight of Europe and Africa on the international board against other powers, such as Asia or the US.

The huge hydroelectric plants in the Mediterranean would also be controlled by a new independent and international body, which would give it a position of special strength when it comes to penalize nations who were especially belligerent. Ultimately, the architect wanted to promote world peace not through politics, but through technology.

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The project actually aroused the interest of the UN, and while it had significant supporters, including renowned architects and artists, it was opposed by prominent leaders. Among those who have not just seen Sörgel’s proposal – nor the architect himself, married to a woman of Jewish roots – were the Nazi commanders.

His project ended up dying with him, at the end of 1952, when he died prematurely after suffering a serious accident while cycling to a conference at a German university.

Today it remains as one of the great utopian proposals of the 20th century.

Pictures | Deutsches Museum and Wikipedia

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