The Mediterranean Sea - A Shortcut in Space and Time
Sebastian Mueller(HK Professor, Institute for Mediterranean Studies)
In astrophysics, there is the theoretical concept of a wormhole, a hypothetical tunnel in spacetime that connects two far-distant points. In science fiction, it is often depicted as a "shortcut" through space, allowing for faster travel between two separate locations. Wormholes are purely theoretical and have not been observed or proven to exist in reality. When thinking about the Mediterranean Sea, it often comes to my mind how the sea can be seen as a gateway to far-distant places or as a shortcut that dramatically limits travel time, thus almost working like a wormhole - in a purely metaphorical way.
Let us imagine that someone on the northern shore of the Strait of Gibraltar wants to travel to the southern shore. The opposite coast is well visible, but the person does not have the ability to cross the waters. Walking along the coast of the Mediterranean to the other side - ignoring the fact that the traveler would face a similar problem of crossing water at the Dardanelles and, in modern times, at the Suez Canal - the distance would be, depending on the measuring method, between 34,000 and 46,000 km. For comparison, the length of the Earth's equator is a bit more than 40,000 km. Walking this distance is not impossible but would take a huge amount of time and energy, more than most people would be willing or able to invest.
However, if someone knows how to build and navigate a boat or ship, the journey across the Strait of Gibraltar is a short trip, and even a well-trained swimmer can cross the sea in a few hours. Navigating the Mediterranean Sea in pre-industrial times was not an easy endeavor, though, and we know that traveling across the sea often required taking a detour to arrive at the desired port. Nevertheless, the ability to construct vessels and navigate in the Mediterranean was a crucial precondition for all the exchanges and the creation of cultural characteristics that we connect with this region.
Just as explorers charted new territories by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, the sea functioned as a gateway to unexplored lands and untapped resources. It provided a pathway for adventurers and traders to embark on journeys of discovery, expanding their understanding of the world and establishing connections with distant lands. Its navigable waters enabled the transportation of goods, leading to commerce and economic growth. Ports and coastal cities flourished as centers of trade, attracting merchants from distant lands who brought with them commodities, technologies, and cultural influences that transformed local economies.
The Mediterranean is a reminder that despite different languages, religions, and customs, the shared humanity of those connected by the sea is a unifying force. The sea nurtures a sense of interconnectedness and encourages mutual understanding, transcending borders and creates a collective identity rooted in the shared experience of the Mediterranean region.