Margate Shell Grotto

Grotto Hill Margate Kent CT9 2BU

Margate’s Shell Grotto – part historic mystery, part art installation, and part, perhaps sheer seaside silliness – is just one of this quirky resort’s eccentric attractions. It’s been a tourist draw since the mid-1800s, when (so history claims) it was uncovered by a group of children playing on the land above it. The grotto was swiftly opened to the public, who arrived in droves on their holidays to trot down into the subterranean gloom and wonder at the bizarre spectacle within – a maze of hallways and chambers studded all over with millions of shells, fashioned into intricate mosaics and packed with mysterious imagery. The mosaics, once brightly coloured, but now blackened by time, show skeletons and animals, hearts and stars; a jaw-dropping riot of symbolism that appears to mean very little. Whatever the grotto’s origins – some say it’s a pagan temple, other more realistically believe it to be a Regency folly, still more smell a Victorian hoax – the real mystery is that no one knows who made this extraordinarily elaborate place; or when, how, or indeed, why. 

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