Grotto

From Academic Kids

A Grotto, when it is not an artificial garden feature, is a small cave, usually near water and often flooded or liable to flood at high tide. The Grotta Azzura at Capri and the grotto of the villa of Tiberius in the Bay of Naples are outstanding natural seashore grottoes. Tiberius filled his grotto with sculptures to recreate a mythological setting, perhaps Polyphemus' cave in the Odyssey. The numinous quality of the grotto is more ancient, of course. In a grotto near Knossos in Crete, Eileithyia had been venerated even before Minoan palace-building, and farther back the grotto is an aspect of the sacred caves of Lascaux.

The word comes from Italian grotta, Vulgar Latin grupta, Latin crypta, (a crypt). It is related to the word grotesque: in the late 15th century, Romans unearthed by accident Nero's Domus Aurea on the Palatine Hill a series of rooms underground (as they had become), decorated in strange arabesques of garlands and animals. Because of the situation in which they were discovered, this form of decoration was given the name grotesque.

The creation of artificial grottoes was an introduction of Mannerist style to Italian, and then to French, gardens of the mid 16th century. Two famous grottoes in the Boboli Gardens of Palazzo Pitti were begun by Vasari and completed by Ammannati and Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593. One originally housed the Prisoners of Michelangelo. The outside of such grottoes might be architectural or designed like an enormous rock or a rustic porch or rocky overhang; inside one found a temple or fountains, stalactites and even imitation gems and shells (sometimes made in ceramic); herms and mermaids, mythological subjects suited to the space: naiads, or river gods whose urns spilled water into pools. Damp grottoes were cool places to retreat from the Italian sun, but they became fashionable in the cool drizzle of the Ile-de-France and near Moscow, at Kuskovo the Sheremetev estate there is a handsome Summer Grotto built in 1775. Grottoes could also serve as baths, as at Palazzo del Tè, where in the 'Casino della Grotta', a small suite of intimate rooms around a grotto and 'logetta' (covered balcony) courtiers once bathed in the small cascade that splashed over the pebbles and shells encrusted in the floor and walls.

Grottoes have served as chapels, or at Villa Farnese at Caprarola, a little theatre designed in the grotto manner. They were often combined with cascading fountains in Renaissance gardens.

The grotto designed by Bernard Palissy for Catherine de Medici's château in Paris, the Tuileries, was renowned. One also finds grottos in the gardens designed by André Le Nôtre for the Versailles. In England, an early garden grotto was built at Wilton House in the 1630s, probably by Isaac de Caus. Grottoes were eminently suitable for less formal gardening too. Alexander Pope's grotto is almost all that survives of one of the very first landscape gardens in England, at Twickenham. There are grottoes in the famous landscape gardens of Stowe, Clandon Park and Stourhead. The Romantic generation of tourists might not visit Fingal's Cave, in the isolated Hebrides, but they heard of it through Felix Mendelssohn's "Hebrides Overture", better known as "Fingal's Cave," which was inspired by his visit. In the 19th century, when miniature Matterhorns and rock-gardens became fashionable, a grotto might be nearby, as at Ascott House.

The Grotto of the Redemption is the largest grotto in the world, and is located in West Bend, Iowa.

Santa's Grotto is usually an area set up in a department store at Christmas for an actor dressed as Santa Claus to distribute gifts to children.

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