Luigi Matta and Alberto Manguel -Il tunnel sottomarino (1927)

On May 12, 1924, the Atlantic underwater railway tunnel was inaugurated, and the first transatlantic train departed from the Point de Saint-Mathieu, bound for New York City.

The Tunnel was designed by the French engineer Adrien Geant, who conceived of the idea while watching a group of children playing with a bamboo cane. The tunnel was built using steel ropes to lower a series of tubes down upon the ocean floor. The tubes were lined with cement and united to each other by iron bolts covered with rubber so that any leakage could be avoided. The tubes were closed at one end only; the open end was connected to the previous segment and pumps used to remove the water. Once the section was completed, the workers inside demolished the metal cap that closed the end of the previous segment, and so the tunnel proceeded. As the first group of workers extended the tunnel along the ocean floor, other workers spread a strong iron net above it to protect it from possible shipwrecked vessels that might sink down upon it and damage it.

On the day of the inauguration, shortly after the departure of the world’s first underwater train, an explosion shook the tunnel, and most of Geant’s work was destroyed. The train remained trapped under water, but luckily at a point relatively near the coast, where the ocean was more shallow. The passengers managed to save themselves by putting on diver’s helmets and walking back to Europe. During their long march home, they stumbled upon the ruins of Atlanteja, one of the lost cities founded by the people of Atlantis.

It was later discovered that a certain MacRoller, a professional rival of Geant’s, as well as a spurned lover of Geant’s wife, was responsible for blowing up the tunnel; fortunately, he was brought to justice.

The derailed and sunken train, and the remains of the tunnel, have since been eroded by the sea; today, only minor ruins can be visited. The development of the airplane industry soon rendered transatlantic train travel impractical, and the project was never renewed.
All that is left of Atlanteja today are the ruins–broken or superbly erect columns, destroyed temples which resemble the wreck of a forest blown by a tempest, houses now inhabited by seaweed and fish, palaces where debris fills the space once occupied by exquisite furniture. Wide streets, now overgrown by underwater plants, cross the city from east to west and from south to north, trailing on into the underwater horizon. But what enhances, above all, the sublime beauty of these ruins is the phosphorescent bluish light that seems to rain upon the city like a shower of stardust and which gives these ancient places an illusion of life. The light comes from large numbers of medusae and jellyfish that haunt these dark waters. Inside the ruins, thousands of micro-organisms also give out a faint light which, combined with that of the medusae and the jellyfish, makes the walls of Atlanteja glitter with a strange and eerie movement.


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