In 1835 a farmer from Kent, England, was running his usual daily work on the field when his shovel hit against something and opened a hole on the ground. From above it was possible to guess that he was walking on top of something empty, but from the surface it was not possible to see a thing.

As it usually happens in these scenarios, the rumour about the discovery spread rapidly and a local teacher offered his own son, Joshua, to be dropped down the hole with a candle. It is peculiar thinking about someone willing to drop their own siblings within an underground mysterious chasm, but thankfully the adventure of the boy terminated with a happy ending here.

Below: picture by deadmanjones shared  via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The young boy entered the unknown hole and started the exploration, passing some minutes in silence in a place which had been closed for who knows how long for. When Joshua was pulled back up, he described a room full of hundreds of thousands of seashells, carefully placed onto walls and ceiling. While listening to the tale of the boy, the adults present seemed sceptical, but when the hole was widened and saw with their own eyes what the cave was hiding, the lack of belief disappeared.

Below: picture by Ben Sutherland shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

In the grotto there was a hallway, a circular space and a chamber for the altar, all covered by intricate mosaics realised with shells.

Below: picture by Krondol shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Joshua’s father, teacher from the area, thought immediately at the economical benefits of owning such a place, hence he bought straight away the land with its grotto, making possible to have it visited by the public. Two years later, in 1837, the area opened up for curious ones and tourists, who started coming to see the mysterious archaeological site. The place still host to this day a museum, a souvenir shop and a café.

There is still a question haunting many people: who built the grotto and why?

It’s clear that the realisation of such a place must have coasted a big amount of time an resources to whoever must have commissioned it, but it is still unknown both the buyer and the builders. Basically the story of the site is almost entirely unknown still.

Below: picture by kotomi shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The theories about who has ever built it push the dating beyond 3,000 years ago, while the most recent opinions support the idea that it dates back to the 18th century. The grotto has been linked to Masonry, the Templar Knights, Phoenicians, Romans and other populations, but in reality no researcher has been able to provide certain answers about the dating and the purpose of this religious sanctuary.

Below: picture by deadmanjones shared  via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the consideration that makes it plausible the theory of the grotto being of ancient dating is the fact that the location is not in a big estate but instead in a simple plot of land owned by local people. For this reason it would have been unlikely the realisation of it just a few centuries before the discovery because the land would have otherwise remained to the family which had commissioned it. In 1930 a seance was performed, trying to reach the souls of the people who had placed over 4 millions of shells and ornaments. As it is not hard to imagine (…) the seance did not lead to any result and the attempt to establish a contact was fruitless. The authors of this intricate artifact remain completely unknown.

Below: picture by Krondol shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Up to this day, the grotto in Margate remains a private property, not enough funds have been collected to start a proper research to date the shells and the decorations or for testing the cement used to fix the pieces altogether. Until the site will be purchased by the English National Trust, the origin of this mysterious monument will probably remain a riddle.

Below: picture by felibrilu shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Below: the ceiling. Picture by  Kevan shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Below: shell particular. Picture by John Bullas shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Below: a rose shell. Picture by Simon Lee shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Below: the grotto. Picture by Kotomi shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Below: a video showing the inside

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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