The grandiose plan to drain the Mediterranean and merge Europe and Africa into one supercontinent

Mildred Europa Taylor March 15, 2021
An artist’s rendering of what Atlantropa might have looked like. Photo: lttiz/CC BY 3.0

The Alantropa plan does sound absurd today to many, but in the 1920s, it was taken seriously by engineers, politicians, architects, and even the United Nations, at one point. There were hundreds of articles in the German and international press supporting the project, and currently, thousands of publications and lectures about Alantropa can be found in a special section in the archive of the Deutsches Museum in Munich. The grandiose plan involved partially draining the Mediterranean Sea and uniting Europe and Africa into one supercontinent.

German architect Herman Sörgel, who was the brain behind the project, believed his plan was the only way to prevent another conflict. World War I had at the time plunged Europe into crisis. Europe’s future was uncertain. After having lost a lot of lives in the war, it was now faced with mass unemployment, poverty, overpopulation while an energy crisis was imminent.

Having experienced all these, Sörgel was convinced that his Alantropa project, which would among others create more land to develop more infrastructure, would help curtail these European problems while ensuring peace. Here’s how.

In 1927, having been inspired by other gigantic engineering projects like the Suez Canal, a 42-year-old Sörgel developed his plan for Atlantropa, which he originally called Panropa. The plan involved building a network of dams. The biggest would be built across the Straits of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco, separating the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean. A second dam would be built across the Dardanelles which would shut off the Black Sea. A third dam would also be placed across the Strait of Sicily, linking Italy to Tunisia and cutting the Mediterranean in two, with different water levels on either side.

These dams would together link Europe to Africa via roads and railways, facilitating the transportation of African minerals and oil to European processing and production centers, a report noted. What’s more, each of the dams would provide hydroelectric energy, supplying Europe with all the power it needed. With a total of 660,200 km2 of new land expected to be reclaimed from the sea, Europe would also have an abundant supply of food from new farmland while Europe’s nations would also have space to expand.

Sörgel maintained that the scale of the Alantropa project, which requires cooperation between countries in terms of money and people power, would put aside the thoughts of getting involved in future conflicts. Again, labor would be needed for the project, giving jobs to the many unemployed at the time.

The German architect believed in Alantropa so much so that he did not only promote it vigorously through the press, films, talks, exhibitions, and poetry, but he also founded the Atlantropa Institute to make his plans known to all. Yet, he failed to talk about the “racist underpinnings” of his project. As part of Alantropa, the Congo River would be blocked, flooding Central Africa and its inhabitants. Ultimately, Alantropa would see Europeans ruling as the dominant race with Africans being a source of labor. Africa’s resources and land would also be at their disposal.

Fortunately, no one gave Sörgel any signs of wanting to invest in his project, despite its popularity. The Nazis, who believed in the concept of Lebensraum (territory to provide space to its members), thought the initiative was impossible and preferred to invade occupying countries to achieve their aim. World powers were also during the time more interested in nuclear power than in hydroelectricity. Thus, Alantropa was never realized. However, following Sörgel’s death in 1952, his idea lived on in science fiction as seen in Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle and Grigory Grebnev’s novel, The Flying Station.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 16, 2021


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