Atlante Mediterraneo - Geography of complexity

by Claudia Zanfi

“Simultaneously Hamitic, Semitic, even Arian, Pagan, Jewish, Christian and Muslim; both African, Asiatic, and European; a continent which has no relationship with our own usual measurements of space and time, for Africa starts from the Pyrenees and the Middle Ages survive there alongside the most daring contemporary offerings; simultaneously Roman and Carthaginian, Alexandrine and Hebraic, Hellenic and Catalan; the stage of contrasts par excellence, fertile homeland of myths and mirages.”

“History is roaring by... turning into geography”, Susan Sontag

The Mediterranean: “Le Gran Bleu”, “The Phoenician Lake”, “The Landlocked Sea”. That which is now presented to us as the stage of the great clash of civilisations, was described by the Greeks as providing contacts, crossovers, exchanges of goods, of languages, of opinions and voices. An inland sea offering communication and not division between the various interrelated peoples, and the setting for forms of mutual and long-lasting benefit, of weddings and hospitality. Polyphonic in the number and complexity of sounds and situations. The concept of the Mediterranean, understood as a distinct yet non-homogeneous phenomenon (unity within diversity) dates back to the Middle Ages, and before that to Greek times.

While in ancient times, the cities were built on hills, far from the sea, the modern era has witnessed the nearing of men and cities to the coastlines. This progressive opening of Mediterranean civilisations onto the sea to the point of becoming hubs of flourishing cultural-economic systems has been carefully documented by Fernand Braudel, exegete of the Great Sea. Braudel points out the contradictions of the single and multiple sea, “divided between north, south, east and west”, yet united by “a climate, a culture and vegetation which share common features from Cadiz to Beirut, from Provence to the Crimean, from Jerusalem to Sicily; all within the greatest extent of terra firma in the world: the great and gigantic unit that is the Euro-Afro-Asian continent, a planet in its own right, a place where everything happened early on, and where man played out the great scenario of his universal history, where the decisive exchanges took place: the sea of choice as backdrop to the great events of history”. Suffice to reread some of the chapters of Herodotus’ Stories to understand that the complexity of the geo-ethnographical discoveries, sponsored by the great monarchs of Egypt and Persia, were by definition ordered and executed with a view to understanding better the territories, facilitated through a further knowledge of the coasts, inlands and rivers, as well as the peculiarities of the customs and traditions of the various populations.

Europe, insofar as it was an offshoot of the Eurasian continent, is surrounded by the sea, with which it maintains a very close relationship, distinguishing it from Africa, Asia and America. Retracing these shores through some of its main cities implies, first of all, a desire to create a network, to link together close relationships between the various research projects that are operating in this cultural field. It is as if the exchanges across this sea continue to make their way from one port to another, uniting common goals and common sentiments. There are many things that bring us together: the landscape, the water, the same linguistic roots. And these similarities create the bases on which to build networks, projects and ideas.

Istanbul, Beirut, Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Alexandria, Barcelona: six cities chosen as “case studies” for the Going Public’06. Atlante Mediterraneo project. The identity of the Mediterranean and its multiplicity, its importance, its investment. The seamless relationship between territories, shores, cities and inhabitants. A vertical and horizontal journey between the Mediterranean and Europe, between East and West. From Istanbul to Barcelona. A circular movement of perpetual comings and goings, of arrivals, contacts, migrations, contaminations and propagations. The effects of globalisation and a changing geopolitical scenario lead to phenomena of rapid transformations to the very sense of particular places and jeopardise delicate social and environmental equilibria. The discarding of traditions and the growth of the new megalopolises, the growing migratory flows and the tourist hotspots, the ancient trading routes and the great infrastructures, the hybrid and complex role of the cities and the great ports on the Mediterranean both at work and play, the social and ethnic components, the openings and the connections to the surrounding territories and the link with the cultural dimension. These are just some of the themes that provide the basis for the research work of artists, students, researchers, writers, geographers and sociologists, all asked to produce a project especially for Going Public’06.

Flows of people, economies and cultures. The six cities are described to us as places in movement, in which the hybridisation process which started in ancient times continued to this day in endless cycles. From the problem of linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities, to the transformation of ancient areas of the city (Istanbul). From the redefinition of borders to the spaces of the collective memory (Nicosia). From mass tourism to migratory influxes (Barcelona). From civil war, to the reconstruction of the city and the society (Beirut). From the transferral of populations, to their looking onto the sea (Tel Aviv/Jaffa). From territorial transformation to sustainability (Alexandria). Where do these cities end and where does the sea begin? The city is changing through its fast and restless growth. The traditional workplaces (ex-factories) are reconverted into multifunctional cultural centres or shopping centres. The outskirts are ever more inhomogeneous: detached houses for the urban elite or council housing; the sea is joined up to the centre with walkways leading to spacious and well equipped waterfronts. The public space is thus transformed and the community interacts differently with the city. Not only does this new “political community” have a new vision of the world, of technology, of the means of production, of economic exchanges and human migration, but it brings with it unprecedented ways of conceiving and implementing social and relational life. The market, the public sphere, popular sovereignty – the typical spaces of modern society – lead to new collective practices which in turn call for new horizons of understanding. In keeping with the theories of Foucault and Deleuze, contemporary geographical complexity serves as a production field for “other” forms of knowledge and alternative pathways, one in which the maps are open concepts, there to generate new layouts. Among the geographical elements that characterise the complexity of the Mediterranean space, the landscape is seen as an anthropic element, which leads to the theme of ecology and sustainability, and from there, that of social and environmental thought. The result is found in things like architectural concepts adopting forms of intelligent recycling and territorial transformation.

The prospect of a “Green Corridor” goes hand in hand with the initial idea behind the Atlante Mediterraneo project, i.e. the birth of the "Euro-Mediterranean Space", and the activation of the corridor known as the “Meridian Corridor”. These two elements are linked to the 2010 Mediterranean scenario, when it will be declared free trade area. As the Mediterranean is circular, moving along a corridor will redraw its geography, the new routes affecting the themes of mobility, human settlements and production. It is a territorial device that affects all the Mediterranean countries, seen as a single political/geographical/social mass. Hence this may be seen as actions in favour of the meeting of different cultures and different peoples, of geographical alterations to the trading, migrating and travelling hubs. The importance of the Meridian Corridor has been evaluated especially in relationship to the complex Mediterranean system in which it is to operate. The current state of the corridors and of the sea highways is focused on the connection between the south of the basin and central Europe. The East-West Corridor on the other hand, (Cyprus-Seville) would provide a direct link with the areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, offering the backbone for local development among the southern nations. A number of key words will help to navigate through this new Atlante Mediterraneo, based on artistic projects and “cultural pluralisms” which, together with a number of international partners and institutions, we have tried to illustrate in order to regain the notion of the “fluid culture” , a concept that lies at the heart of the Mediterranean area, in all that which is mixed, blended together, only to then stand out in the array of multiplicity.

Charles Taylor, “Modern Social Imaginaries”, Meltemi 2005
University of Palermo, Urban and Territorial Department, 2005
Tzvetan Todorov, “The new world disorder”,
Carlo Galli, “Muticulturalismo. Ideologie e sfide”, Il Mulino 2006