The Shell Grotto is a unique 70-foot underground winding passageway in Margate, Kent, painstakingly decorated with around 4,6 million seashells. This English tourist attraction is as beautiful as it is mysterious, as no one seems to know who created it and why.
The story goes that the Shell Grotto was discovered in 1835, when local James Newlove lowered his son Joshua into a hole in the ground that appeared while they were digging a duck pond. When the boy came back out, he told his father about this wondrous underground tunnel covered entirely in seashell mosaics. As soon as he laid eyes on the accidental discovery, Newlove immediately saw its commercial potential. He installed gas lamps to illuminate the ornate passageway and three years later he opened the grotto to the public. The opening came as a big surprise to the inhabitants of Margate, as the place had never bee marked on any maps, and nobody knew about its existence. As soon as the first paying visitors walked into the shell–covered underground tunnel, the debate regarding its origins began. For every person who believed it was an ancient temple, there seemed to be another one convinced it was actually the secret meeting place of a secret sect. Everyone saw something different in the mosaic patterns, from altars to gods and goddesses or trees of life. But despite the multiple theories going around, no one has been able to solve the mystery of the Shell Grotto.
There approximately 4.6 million shells (cockles, whelks, mussels and oysters) glued to the walls and ceiling of Kent’s mysterious passageway using fish-based mortar. The Victorian lighting installation set up by James Newlove damaged some of the decorations throughout the years, and the so-called Altar Chamber was destroyed by a bomb during World War 2, and had to be rebuilt. Today, shell mosaics once again cover the entire 2000 square feet of the grotto and a team of conservationists is making sure this unique tourist attraction will be around to amaze and astonish visitors for years to come.
Photo: Gernot Keller
Photo: Emoke Denes
via Curious Places