Sunday, May 25, 2008

De Lesseps and His Inland Sea


The Great Promoter's Scheme to Restore Fertility to Northern Africa.

The late Count de Lesseps was at one time engaged in a daring and attractive engineering scheme with which the public is not generally familiar. Its object was to create a new sea and thereby restore to fertility and civilization a large part of northern Africa.

Mr. Max de Forrest, now of Nutley, N. J., a former officer in the French army, met his famous countryman at this time.

"I met Count de Lesseps," he said, "in 1881, at Cabes, in southern Tunis, where I had been ordered with a squadron of cavalry. Shortly after my arrival he came with a surveying party to make soundings for the proposed interior sea. I had orders to place at his disposal both men and horses, and the discharge of this duty brought me into almost daily communication with him until his departure.

"The interior sea at that time aroused all his enthusiasm. He brought to bear the same persuasive powers that he used when promoting the Suez and the Panama canals and enterprises. To skeptics he always replied, 'It can be done, and it will be done, if the government will give me the money to do it with.'

"Its proposed area embraced the entire plain lying to the southward of the boundary line drawn from Cabes via Gafsa to Tamerza. The practicability of the scheme was supported by many facts. It was proved that an inland sea had covered in ancient times the area which it was intended to flood. The level of the land was generally below that of the gulf of Cabes. Innumerable underground streams of fresh and salt water are found in the southern part of Algeria and Tunis.

"The water was to be supplied to the inland sea from the gulf of Cabes. The tides would have a minimum depth sufficient to allow of the passage in all directions of light boats. But the most valuable result of the scheme, it was held, would be to restore the ancient fertility of the country and to oppose a barrier to the sirocco, the deadly burning wind which piles up the desert sand about the oases and finally buries them.

"M. de Lesseps dwelt on these benefits with boundless enthusiasm and imagination. Buried cities would be unearthed and the Coliseum of El Jemm, now a crumbling ruin, but once approaching that of Rome in size, would be accessible to admiring tourists.

"M. de Lesseps left the work in the hands of the general staff of the French army, by whom it is now supposed to be carried on. Whether any progress is being made I do not know." — New York World.

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