Three-piece cave, ascent into the light
The Proserpina Grotto
When the Ermitage opened in 1785, the Proserpina Grotto was its main attraction. It's three-piece system allowed the mythical overcoming of death and the way to enlightenment to be enacted.
Proserpina was the name given to the goddess of the underworld in Roman mythology, who was simultaneously the goddess of fertility. She is the Roman equivalent to the Greek goddess Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, who was abducted while picking flowers by Hades, the god of the underworld, to rule by his side over the realm of the dead. Her mother, who was responsible for the fertility of the earth, of grains and of seeds, searched everywhere for her daughter but couldn't find her. She became so grief stricken that she forbade the plants to grow, the trees were no longer allowed to bear fruit, and the earth became barren and dry. Finally Hades relented and allowed Persephone to spend part of the year on Earth with her mother. During this time Demeter let life on Earth flourish, and in winter when Persephone is with Hades, life on Earth sleeps. The myth of Persephone is one of the most important tales in European cultural history, as Christianity understood in the ascent of Persephone to the light something similar to the resurrection. In the Persephone Grotto, which is made up of three sections on top of each other, the myth could be clearly staged and visualised. The topmost grotto is lit through an opening into the Rustic Temple which lies above, and in this grotto once stood a statue of Porserpina. In the lowest grotto there was an altar with dragons and crocodiles - creatures of the underworld - illuminated by Chinese lanterns. The ascent from darkness into light, setting oneself apart from death and striving for enlightenment with which one is then overcome, is designed as a testing journey. The decor underwent many changes over time, some of these by the painter Jacques Philippe Loutherbourg. The last changes were made in 1812, and now there is a memorial to the gardens founder, Balbina von Andlau, in the first grotto. The name was changed to the Grotto of Death or the Grotto of Resurrection. More details can be found in the printed guidebook.