image Mediterranean sea at night

Living in Cyprus I’m surrounded by the sea, the Mediterranean Sea. It’s pretty big for a sea, a lovely blue colour when the sun shines (which is most of the time) and is rarely rough, though it has its moments of fury. But for one man, his vision for the Mediterranean Sea was wildly different to my reality. He saw green grass and cows grazing where I see the rolling waves of the Mediterranean.

Herman Sörgel, a German architect, proposed in the 1920s to build a damn across the Straits of Gibraltar. This damn would have the effect of partially draining the Mediterranean Sea, including the Adriatic Sea, which you can see in the image above. It’s the sea between Italy and Turkey in the top half of the above image.

image Gibraltar
Gibraltar by ArtTower from Pixabay

Sörgel’s project, called Atlantropa, if it had been taken up, would have seen a hydroelectric dam built across the Straits of Gibraltar, providing an enormous amount of energy to the area. It would also have seen the lowering of the surface of the Mediterranean Sea by anything up to 660 feet or 200 metres. This would have had the effect of opening up huge tracts of land for settlement.

Not content with one huge dam, the project stipulated that four other dams be built as well.

1) Across the Dardanelles, thus holding back the Black Sea.
2) A dam between Sicily and Tunisia. This would also provide a roadway and further lower the Mediterranean Sea.
3) A Suez Canal extension, with locks to maintain the Red Sea connection.
4) On the Congo River to refill the Mega-Chad basin around Lake Chad providing fresh water to irrigate the Sahara desert.

The project received little support outside of Germany and the idea for a unification of Europe with Africa, to become Atlantropa, didn’t seem to take into account what the people of Africa or European colonies within Africa wanted. In fact, the project seemed doomed to failure because no thought went into the fact that countries effected were mainly rivals. Fascist Italy and the growing unrest in post World War Germany were seen as direct rivals to the British Empire. Nobody was going to persuade the British to allow a dam to be built from their colony in Gibraltar to Africa, stopping their self-appointed role of the Royal Navy policing the Mediterranean Sea.

Apart from the politics of the time, in the 1920s climate was not at the forefront of anyone’s thinking though Sörgel did believe the project’s effect on the climate would be beneficial, altering the course of the Gulf Stream to bring better weather conditions in northern Europe as far as the British Isles.

What Sörgel couldn’t take into account at the time was climate change. A project on the scale he proposed may well have caused more harm than good. If climatic predictions today prove correct, then his raising of the sea level outside his drained Mediterranean coupled with predicted rising sea levels today would have left many of the world’s coastal areas under even more threat of flooding.

Thank goodness none of this came about. I may well have been writing this on the fringes of the Mediterranean Desert, rather than the Mediterranean Sea.

Copyright © Tom Kane 2019