Gibraltar: dropping sea levels



^ Damming of the Strait of Gibraltar, according to the Atlantropa project via dieselpunks


‘Gibraltar as an excuse to excite patriotism’, is how Manuel Chaves brilliantly reads a never-ending conflict on the British exclave and the way it has often been instrumentalized by the nostalgia of a lost English empire and the national proud of a united Spain. After the recent escalation of tension at its narrow border over the summer, it even seems that Gibraltar is being used by Rajoy’s Government as a smokescreen to distract the media from the current investigation on Bárcenas corruption scandal within his party. The idea of a strong Spanish nation recovering a rock also aims to blur any image of Catalan nationalist aspirations.


In September 1975, just a few months before Franco would pass away, the Agreement allowing the US to extend the usage of its highly strategic military bases in Spain would come to an end. Wikileaks conspiracy theories aside – on whether or not Franco was assassinated for that purpose -, Gibraltar sovereignty also played a key role in the negotiations back then. Not only did it affect the transition of political powers towards a parliamentary monarchy, but it also laid the foundations for Spain joining NATO in 1982.


Arguing environmental issues around the seabed and local fisheries being destroyed by concrete landfills and breakwaters in land-lacking Gibraltar, Spain seems to have forgotten the ferocious activity along its own coast during the past years. To the hilarious extreme that Spain has forbidden any sands or stones crossing the border. Even if already agreed between local municipalities and constructors, no material soil is to be exported into Gibraltar for seaward expansion purposes of its shoreline. The fact of making passage of local residents from one side of the border to the other a matter of waiting for hours has brought the issue to mediatic front covers.


Within this interesting climate of shoreline geopolitics, I want to rescue a megalomaniac-engineering project of how to grow a continent by Herman Sörgel: Atlantropa, an idea born during the 1920s boom and ulterior crisis, that aimed to generate vast extensions of agricultural land and hydropower for a massively growing European population. Sörgel’s vision of desiccating the Mediterranean through two concrete dams, one in Gibraltar and one in the Black Sea, would lower the whole sea level in some 200 metres, opening-up around 600,000 km2 of new coastal land, while using the water to flood central Africa (turning Lake Chad into the Chad Sea). This project was very much influenced by engineer Roudaire’s proposal for a Sahara Sea through inundation of Tunisian and Algerian Chotts (1874) that Jules Verne fantasized in the Invasion of the Sea (1905), as well as other infrastructural futurisms of the time like the draining of the Zuider Zee in the Netherlands. Even Peter Behrens and Erich Mendelsohn contributed with designs for Atlanropa’s unprecedented transformation of the Mediterranean basin, providing alternatives for a new coastline in Palestine after voices demanding a Jewish state.


The shoreline is not anymore where land and sea meet, as Carl Schmitt would refer to, but rather where ‘land, water and air meet’, as Carter remarks. Air, amongst other landscape and human factors, pushes and negotiates the relationship between land and water. The addition of air’s weight to the equation of receding/expanding water masses, introduces not only a vertical dimension to the shoreline, but also includes the changing of its environmental and political surrounding over time. The shoreline is no longer flat. It rather expands into a four-dimensional construct of global implications.


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^ The new dams and shores of Atlantropa. Image by edit suisse group via Cabinet


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^ Coastal extensions, dam in Gibraltar and inundating Africa. Images via dieselpunks



Sörgel’s design for Gibraltar dam via dieselpunks


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^ Roudaire’s project to connect the Mediterranean with the Algerian Chotts, via paris-philo


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