This Article was written by Zanelle Awinyo, Year 9
Looking back, what has been one of your most ambitious plans? Was it a new year resolution? A science experiment? Starting a business? Or perhaps could it have been draining the Mediterranean?
It most likely wasn’t the last one because that was the work of a man named Herman Sörgel, a German architect in the 1920’s. While you may be thinking, as far as dreams go, draining the Mediterranean should have been out of question- but at the time, it didn’t seem entirely impossible.
The Mediterranean naturally evaporates meaning more water flows out than comes into it. Theoretically speaking, it also means that if you were to put a dam across the Straits of Gibraltar (a narrow waterway that separates Europe from Africa), the sea would naturally slowly start to dry up.
Sörgel also hypothesized that after the sea level dropped by about 100 to 200 meters, a fifth of the Mediterranean would turn to land and Europe and Africa would unite into one continent . Not only that, he further proclaimed you could use the dam as a massive hydropower station and there’d be huge amounts of land for settlement and agriculture on a scale never seen before.
The plan for Sörgel’s new continent was made public in the years after the First World War. Some speculate that he thought all the new land surfacing would be a solution to the underlying fight over colonies, making sure there wasn’t a Second World War.
Sörgel’s plan was called Atlantropa, and to this day it’s considered one of the most ambitious plans in history. The German architect spent most of his lifetime advertising his plan, and while it did sound like a good plan in theory, the reality was there were more than a few problems with it.
Firstly, there might not have been enough concrete in the world to build a dam that big, not to mention the other secondary dams for the Mediterranean to be truly sealed off. In addition to this, the dam would have needed to be 300 meters high and about two and a half kilometers wide.
Sörgel also faced hate from the people on the Mediterranean coastline who were disappointed at the thought of having to be inland hundreds of miles from the sea if his plans were launched. Although he may have not known at the time, some meteorologists predicted that if Sörgel’s plan worked he may have diverted the Gulf Stream meaning temperatures in Europe would have dropped greatly and agriculture as we know it would have ended.
Sörgel passed away in 1952 and any hopes of the plan being carried out died along with him. However his idea still lives on, be it in science fiction or a testament towards how big we can dream, project Atlantropa with it’s faults and errors shows there’s no limits to one's imagination.