The Cause of All Causeways

The early Greeks navigating to the narrow edge of their pond were filled with dread at the sight of a greater amount of boundless water that we now call the Atlantic Ocean. They thought that the narrow passage connecting their sea to the other vaster one had been opened up by Hercules, with the same ardor we now know it was not. Hercules had smashed through the mass of earth connecting Europe and Africa and with that created a strait, a gate at a geological scale. On both sides he had left natural landmarks that were known as “The Pillars of Hercules”: on one side the Rock of Gibraltar and on the other Jebel Musa.

(Overt, declared madness has always presented architects with a cleared trail of opportunity.)

Herman Sörgel

In 1927 a German engineer called Herman Sörgel started working on a project that he thought would bring internal peace to Europe and a dominion over the rest of the world – two dams that would close off the Mediterranean, one at the strait of Gibraltar and another at the Bosporus. This gave a new and more honest, perhaps more sinister meaning to the expression “nation building”.

Sörgel thought that closing off the Mediterranean would reduce the level of the sea by 200m, uncovering much coastal land to satisfy the European nations appetite for expansion. The dams would provide a cheap and constant flow of power and the closeness between Africa and Europe a chance for the latter to better explore the former.

To this new super continent he called Atlantropa.

(Overt, declared madness has always presented architects with a cleared trail of opportunity.)

The Weimar Republic, I guess with a liberal spirit of a new era, somehow encouraged the idea. Later Nazi Germany rejected Sörgel’s plans, not because they weren’t interested in expanding their territories but because they had their eyes set on the East.

Erich Mendelsohn, the great German Expressionist architect jumped at the idea of designing a new and expanded coast of Palestine at a time when the new Jewish State was first being mentioned as real possibility. Mendelsohn’s support for the idea behind Atlantropa is known, but no specifics of his plan have survived.

Peter Behrens’ tower in the Gibraltar Dam

The most symbolic addition to Atlantropa came from no other than Peter Behrens of AEG Turbine Factory fame, the man that offered a young Le Corbusier his first job as an architect.

Behrens proposed a 400m (?) tall tower right in the middle of the Gibraltar dam.

Perhaps he knew about the Syriac Orthodox text called “The Cause of All Causes”. There it is stated that, contrary to popular credence, the original “Pillars of Hercules” were three, not two.

Overt, declared madness has always presented architects with a cleared trail of opportunity and Behrens, like all architects, only followed that trail to where it inevitably leads: across the causeway of a dam, up to a huge tower in the middle of the sea justified by an obscure religious reference, overlooking the blocked flow of a sea into an ocean, and a landmass connection between two continents that didn’t exist before – megalomania redefined.



  1. In nomine pater

    Só Very interesting. Thank you

    • DLA

      Thank You, In nomine Pater.

      “He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

      Mark 16:15

      Spread the word man!

  2. haha! awesome post..
    the simplistic naiveté of architectural social theory never ceases to amaze me.
    im also a little empathetically embarrassed…
    but let’s be honest, we’re all a little bit jealous of how much more fun they had it… and how they pushed it so far that all we’re left with is dull plausibility.
    although… come to think of it… this declared madness is still around (or was, up until around 08), but maybe just under a different patron, and a different set of “vallues”…
    but damn, they promised us flying cars and all we got was stupid palmtree islands
    ps – i love peter behrens… and how his brutal buildings are almost a meant as places for worshiping industrialization. I’ve always seen them as a secular ode to progress ans technology… but this one looks way more political. could it be that under a symbolic program of comunicating power as such everyone turns into albert speer?

  3. DLA

    I think architects, even the best ones, generally conform to the brief and context. In this case it was a lunatic, grandiose and surely political scheme and Behrens answered with a design that fits.

    You want flying cars? Wait for some of my next posts!

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