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Shell House Showcase: Kuskovo's Shell 'Grotto', Moscow

No visit to Moscow would be complete without assessing the dedicated restoration project at the Kuskovo Grotto.

The architectural and landscape ensemble of Count Sheremetev’s favourite estate was developed in 1750–1770, when owning a French-style formal park was the brightest demonstration of wealth and high position for Russian aristocracy. This trend came to Imperial Petersburg and from Versailles around the 1730s- the gardens were laid out in 1743. Today, Kuskovo has the only extant French formal park within Moscow. To look like Versailles, the park required a symmetry in the layout, decorative approach to the arrangement of green and water space, an abundance of sculptures, coup de théâtres and 'curiosities'.

The stone-made structure of the Shell Grotto was designed by a serf architect Fyodor Argunov and building took about five years — from 1756 till 1761. The interior was to represent the combination of stone and water elements. Its dome is crowned with a sculptured fountain, whose stone streams flow down the roof and walls. Openwork bars on the windows and doors resemble seaweed and connect with the water metaphor. Paired rusticated columns, gables, seem to mirror a reflection of the grotto in the outside pond.

In 1761, Sheremetev invited Johannes Focht, a 'grotto specialist', to decorate his pavilion. His work took almost three times as long as the grotto's construction and was completed by 1775. The most amazing decorative elements were thousands of shells of 24 different types delivered from the Mediterranean, Red and Black Seas, the Sea of Japan, and reservoirs of the Moscow region.

During the 2017–2019 restoration specialists decided to recreate the original appearance of the Grotto - 150,000 shells from Greece, Italy, Turkey and France were used.

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