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.

Notre-Dame's Rooftop Bees Survived the Historic Fire

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Following the fire that tore through Notre-Dame in Paris on April 15, fire officials shared that the church's bell towers, stone facade, and many of its precious artifacts had escaped destruction. But the building's centuries-old features weren't the only things threatened by the blaze: The three beehives on the roof of the cathedral were also at risk. Now, CNN reports that the bees of Notre-Dame and their homes have survived the historic fire.

Notre-Dame's beehives are a relatively recent addition to the site: They were placed on the first-floor rooftop over the sacristy and beneath one of the rose windows in 2013. Nicolas Geant, the church's beekeeper, has been in charge of caring for the roughly 180,000 Buckfast bees that make honey used to feed the hungry.

Most people weren't thinking of bees as they watched Notre-Dame burn, but when the fire was put out, Geant immediately searched drone photographs for the hives. While the cathedral's wooden roof and spire were gone, the beehives remained, though there was no way of knowing if the bees had survived without having someone check in person. Geant has since talked to Notre-Dame's spokesperson and learned that bees are flying in and out of the hives, which means that at least some of them are alive.

Because the beehives were kept in a section 100 feet below the main roof where the fire was blazing, they didn't meet the same fate as the church's other wooden structures. The hives were likely polluted with smoke, but this wouldn't have hurt the insects: Bees don't have lungs, so smoke calms them rather than suffocates them.

Notre-Dame's bees may have survived to buzz another day, but some parts of the building weren't so lucky. France has vowed to rebuild it, with over $1 billion donated toward the cause so far.

[h/t CNN]

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame Is the Best-Selling Book in France Right Now

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Thanks to current events, Victor Hugo's 188-year-old book The Hunchback of Notre-Dame has ascended the bestseller list in France. The novel follows a hunchback named Quasimodo who is living in the cathedral's bell tower in Paris during the 15th century. Now, following the fire that destroyed parts of Notre-Dame on Monday, April 15, readers in France are rushing to buy a copy, The Guardian reports.

Investigators aren't sure how the Notre-Dame fire started, but they suspect it resulted from an accident rather than arson or terrorism. The blaze consumed the structure's 800-year-old roof and iconic spire but left the stone facade, bell towers, and south rose window intact. France is already planning to rebuild the church, and so far $1 billion has been raised for the cause.

The Notre-Dame cathedral may not have become the beloved landmark it is today if wasn't for Victor Hugo. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame came out at a time when the cathedral was in disrepair, and by writing his book, Hugo hoped to revive interest in the historic piece of architecture. He did just that: In reaction to the novel's success, Notre-Dame underwent a massive restoration that lasted a quarter of a century. Many new elements were added, including that spire that was lost on Monday.

This week, the French people are returning to the book that's tied so deeply to Notre-Dame's reputation. On April 17, different editions of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame occupied the first, third, fifth, seventh, and eighth positions of the bestseller list of Amazon France. A book detailing the history of the Gothic cathedral claimed the sixth slot.

[h/t The Guardian]

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