One Engineer's Crazy Plan to Drain the Mediterranean

Ittiz at en.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Ittiz at en.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

In the 1930s, German architect and engineer Herman Sörgel hatched an ambitious plan that he believed could unify post-World War I Europe: partially drain the Mediterranean Sea and create a new super-continent called "Atlantropa."

First outlined in a 1929 book, Sörgel's "Atlantropa Project" planned to lower the Mediterranean's water level by as much as 650 feet, generating hydroelectricity and creating thousands of square miles of arable coastline. The project demanded some of the most ambitious dams ever constructed, including a 21-mile dam at the Strait of Gibraltar that would create 50,000 megawatts of electricity—conservatively, enough power to supply least 8.2 million homes. Overall, the drop in water would free up nearly 373,000 square miles of coastal land for farming or colonization. (For comparison, the entire country of France is just over 248,000 square miles!) In the process, Europe and Africa would be linked.

Despite the project's grand scale, Sörgel believed creating a new super-continent would be relatively easy. The plan was modeled after smaller engineering projects that were already in the works. In the 1920s, the Netherlands had begun erecting dams and dikes in and around the North Sea, a project that eventually helped the country reclaim thousands of acres of land once covered by the Zuiderzee bay. Some of that new land would become the province of Flevoland, now home to 400,000 people.

Damming the Mediterranean seemed easy by comparison. Water enters the sea from two major arteries, with the Atlantic pouring in from the Strait of Gibraltar in the west and the Black Sea rushing in from the Dardanelles in the east. By pinching the flow at those two straits, the Mediterranean would plummet almost immediately.

A pacifist and dreamer, Sörgel believed the project could help Europe recover from its post-World War I economic woes, bringing the continent's countries together to share resources and vital infrastructure. Writing at Atlas Obscura, Toon Lambrechts says, "Because of its scale, Atlantropa required cooperation between countries, creating an interdependence that would rule out future armed conflicts."

The Atlantropa Project, however, had a few big blind spots. Over at the Big Think, Frank Jacobs argues that Sörgel's plan was too Eurocentric, with this new "Euro-African continent entirely run by and for the benefit of Europe(eans), [and] Africa(ns) being reduced to supplying raw materials." Indeed, Sörgel didn't appear to think very hard about how Africans might be affected by his project—along with draining the Mediterranean, he also planned to flood the Congo Basin and submerge most of the country of Chad. According to Cabinet Magazine, Sörgel saw "Africa as an empty continent void of history and culture." (The engineer went so far as to say that Atlantropa would make Africa a "territory actually useful to Europe"—a remarkably tone-deaf thing to say considering Europe's colonial role on the continent at the time.)

While Sörgel's idea received a lot of press during his lifetime, the leaders of the Weimar Republic did little to make the blueprints for Atlantropa a reality. And when the Nazi party came to power, it dismissed Sörgel's ideas altogether. Sörgel would fight for his vision until his death in 1952. Eight years later, the Atlantropa Institute—an organization dedicated to keeping his dream alive—dried up.

7 Historic European Castles Virtually Rebuilt Before Your Very Eyes

A reconstruction of Spiš Castle in eastern Slovakia.
A reconstruction of Spiš Castle in eastern Slovakia.
Budget Direct

While some centuries-old castles are still standing tall, others haven’t withstood the ravages of time, war, or natural disaster quite as well. To give you an idea of what once was, Australia-based insurance company Budget Direct has digitally reconstructed seven of them for its blog, Simply Savvy.

Watch below as ruins across Europe transform back into the formidable forts and turreted castles they used to be, courtesy of a little modern-day magic we call GIF technology.

1. Samobor Castle // Samobor, Croatia

samobor castle
Samobor Castle in Samobor, Croatia
Budget Direct

The only remaining piece of the 13th-century castle built by Bohemia’s King Ottokar II is the base of the guard tower—the rest of the ruins are from an expansion that happened about 300 years later. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the Croatian city of Samobor, which bought the property in 1902.

2. Château Gaillard // Les Andelys, France

Château Gaillard in Les Andelys, France
Château Gaillard in Les Andelys, France
Budget Direct

King Richard I of England built Château Gaillard in just two years during the late 12th century as a fortress to protect the Duchy of Normandy, which belonged to England at the time, from French invasion. It didn’t last very long—France’s King Philip II captured it six years later.

3. Dunnottar Castle // Stonehaven, Scotland

Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland
Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland
Budget Direct

Dunnottar Castle overlooks the North Sea and is perhaps best known as the fortress that William Wallace (portrayed by Mel Gibson in 1995’s Braveheart) and Scottish forces won back from English occupation in 1297. Later, it became the place where the Scottish monarchy stored their crown jewels, which were smuggled to safety when Oliver Cromwell invaded during the 17th century.

4. Menlo Castle // Galway City, Ireland

Menlo Castle in Galway City, Ireland
Menlo Castle in Galway City, Ireland
Budget Direct

This ivy-covered Irish castle was built during the 16th century and all but destroyed in a fire in 1910. For those few centuries, it was home to the Blake family, English nobles who owned property all over the region.

5. Olsztyn Castle // Olsztyn, Poland

Olsztyn Castle in Olsztyn, Poland
Olsztyn Castle in Olsztyn, Poland
Budget Direct

The earliest known mention of Olsztyn Castle was in 1306, so we know it was constructed some time before then and expanded later that century by King Casimir III of Poland. It was severely damaged during wars with Sweden in the 17th and 18th centuries, but its highest tower—once a prison—still stands.

6. Spiš Castle // Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia

Spiš Castle in Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia
Spiš Castle in Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia
Budget Direct

Slovakia’s massive Spiš Castle was built in the 12th century to mark the boundary of the Hungarian kingdom and fell to ruin after a fire in 1780. However, 20th-century restoration efforts helped fortify the remaining rooms, and it was even used as a filming location for parts of 1996’s DragonHeart.

7. Poenari Castle // Valachia, Romania

Poenari Castle in Valachia, Romania
Poenari Castle in Valachia, Romania
Budget Direct

This 13th-century Romanian castle boasts one previous resident of some celebrity: Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracula, who may have been an early influence for Bram Stoker’s vampire, Dracula. It also boasts a staggering 1480 stone steps, which you can still climb today.

[h/t Simply Savvy]

Drunken Thieves Tried Stealing Stones From Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame.
Notre-Dame.
Athanasio Gioumpasis, Getty Images

With Paris, France, joining a long list of locales shutting down due to coronavirus, two thieves decided the time was right to attempt a clumsy heist—stealing stones from the Notre-Dame cathedral.

The crime occurred last Tuesday, March 17, and appeared from the start to be ill-conceived. The two intruders entered the cathedral and were immediately spotted by guards, who phoned police. When authorities found them, the trespassers were apparently drunk and attempting to hide under a tarpaulin with a collection of stones they had taken from the premises. Both men were arrested.

It’s believed the offenders intended to sell the material for a profit. Stones from the property sometimes come up for sale on the black market, though most are fake.

The crime comes as Paris is not only dealing with the coronavirus pandemic but a massive effort to restore Notre-Dame after the cathedral was ravaged by a fire in 2019. That work has come to a halt in the wake of the health crisis, though would-be looters should take note that guards still patrol the property.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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