How a man wanted to empty the Mediterranean sea, for peace

This is Hans, a software engineer at Datawrapper and the person that works a lot on the locator maps feature. For this week’s edition of the weekly chart, I took a look at a crazy idea.

Some people fight their whole life for their one brainchild. Bavarian architect Herman Sörgel certainly did. His idea: Atlantropa, a new continent consisting of Europe and Africa, created through a 35km long hydroelectric dam at the Strait of Gibraltar (and some smaller ones) that would have lowered the Mediterranean sea level by up to 200m:

Sörgel came up with the idea in 1929 and tried to find supporters for the idea until his death 33 years later. He didn’t want to build it out of fun; Sörgel was afraid of war and saw unemployment, overpopulation, and unfolding energy demand in Europe as the main causes. He believed Atlantropa would have solved all of this:

  • The project would have been so big that it could have created enough jobs for many future generations to come.
  • New land of the size of France would have been added to the Mediterranean sea.
  • And the dams would have produced enough energy for all of Europe.

The plan also incorporated a special solution for the city of Venice which would live on in an artificial lake connected to the sea by a canal.

While Sörgel was a pacifist and wanted to avoid the second world war, the interests of Africans weren’t considered in his Eurocentric plan: Europeans were supposed to settle in Africa, and Sörgel planned to turn the whole Congo Basin into a giant artificial lake.

Unsurprisingly, Atlantropa was never realized – especially due to the lack of any actual cooperation with Mediterranean countries, on which the impact would have been the most severe. One of other many downsides: While the Mediterranean sea level would have lowered by 200m, the global sea level would have been rising by about 1 meter – a rather untenable side effect in the current climate. Though the idea never panned out, it sure is great material for a fantasy map!

For the map, I decided to use the maritime style which we developed for stories focusing on the sea. To label the Mediterranean Sea I used the marker style preset water which is intended for labeling water features. Since we do not have special icons for dams, I used brackets “(“ as icons and tilted them as needed. I also made two versions of the map, one for desktop with callout lines and one for mobile where I placed most of the information in the map key. The dataset for the water level comes for the Natural Earth’s Bathymetry dataset which I edited in QGIS.

That’s it from me for today! You can read more about the Atlantropa on Wikipedia. I’m looking forward to any feedback you might have. We’ll see you next week!