Atlantropa: The German Plan to Dam the Mediterranean

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Proposed dams to deal off the Strait of Gibraltar
Proposed dams to deal off the Strait of Gibraltar

Ricarda Vidal, a lecturer in visual culture and cultural history at King’s College London, writes at The Conversation about the colossal 1920s plan to dam the Mediterranean Sea.

The plan, called Atlantropa, was the brainchild of a German architect, Herman Sörgel. The rise of Nazism in the 1920s and 30s convinced Sörgel that a new world war could only be avoided if a radical solution was found to European problems of unemployment, overpopulation and — with Saudi oil still a decade away — an impending energy crisis, according to Vidal. “With little faith in politics, Sörgel turned to technology.”

Dams across the Strait of Gibraltar, the Dardanelles and eventually between Sicily and Tunisia, each containing gigantic hydroelectric power plants, would form the basis for the new supercontinent. In its final state the Mediterranean would be converted into two basins, with the western part lowered by 100 meters and the eastern part by 200 meters and a total of 660,200 km2 of new land reclaimed from the sea — an area larger than France.

Below is a 1951 German-language clip that shows the scope of the project.

Atlantropa may sound fantastical in hindsight but it was taken seriously at the time, writes Vidal. What made the plan so attractive “was its vision of world peace achieved not through politics and diplomacy but with a simple technological solution.”

Atlantropa would be held together by a vast energy net, which would extend from the gigantic hydroelectric plant in the Gibraltar dam and provide the entirety of Europe and Africa with electricity. The power plant would be overseen by an independent body who would have the power to switch off the energy supply to any individual country that posed a threat to peace.

There is a dieselpunkian twist in that in his alternate-history novel The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick has the victorious Nazis embark on a “Project Farmland” to drain the entire Mediterranean!

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