Building Atlantropa: One Man’s Plan to Drain the Mediterranean Sea | Latest news and scientific articles


German architect Herman Sörgel’s plans in 1928 included partially draining the Mediterranean Sea, joining Europe and Africa, and using sustainable hydroelectric power and irrigation schemes to power and sustain half the world.

Sörgel’s vision was to build a hydroelectric dam across the Strait of Gibraltar, 13 km at its narrowest, that would connect the two continents and reclaim more than 250,000 km2 of land from the sea. Once the water supply of the blocked Atlantic Ocean, evaporation would begin to drain the Mediterranean basin. Italy’s land mass would increase by nearly half and the Greek islands would be attached to the mainland.

Another hydroelectric project between Sicily and Tunisia would help lower the eastern Mediterranean. The clean energy thus generated, along with other hydroelectric dams on the Black Sea, the Suez Canal and in Africa, would provide enough power for the newly formed supercontinent which he called Atlantropa, or Panropa.

Land bridges crossing the dams of Sicily and Gibraltar would allow people to travel easily between Europe and Africa. Damming the Congo River further south would create huge inland lakes to irrigate the Sahara Desert and develop agriculture, provide inland shipping lanes, and make the climate more conducive to European settlement.

It was a plan rooted in old colonial ideals despite its forward-thinking idealism, with the understanding that Europe had more people than space and Africa had more space than people. Sörgel’s idealized Atlantropa would be a meeting of cultures that would end conflict in Europe after World War I, unite neighboring Mediterranean countries, and enable progress in Africa through the application of technology.

The years following World War I in Europe were full of economic uncertainty and resentment between nations. But in Germany, there were also years of creative revolution that included the movement of arts, design and architecture to which Sörgel belonged – Bauhaus, literally “building house”. Around the world, colossal engineering projects like the Suez and Panama Canals and the Hoover Dam inspired Sörgel’s vision of connecting nations.

Completion of the entire project would take 150 years, well into the second half of the 21st century. But it would be 150 years of prosperity through jobs and unlimited clean energy created, and peace, as nations cooperated and received the benefits of Atlantropa. Countries that provoked a conflict would simply see their energy supply cut off.

Ultimately, the concept was defeated in part by the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, whose nationalism was based on contempt for modern art like the Bauhaus, ideas of racial superiority and scientific racism, and Adolf Hitler’s expansion plans in Russia. Also, the technical shear engineering challenge of creating just the Strait of Gibraltar dam would most likely have physically halted the entire project before it began.

Although he devoted his life to promoting the idea, founding the Atlantropa Institute and arousing the consideration of the United Nations, Sörgel died in 1952 without any foundation being laid. The institute closed permanently in 1960 and with it one of the most extraordinary notions in modern history.


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