»Bound in chains for drinking contests«

Bacchus Grotto


Celebrating parties was a welcome pastime already in the sixteenth century, and the more surprising the incident, the better…

To this end, Archduke Ferdinand II had a grotto, supported by a pillar and four transverse arches, laid out in the park of Ambras Castle.

After the early sixteenth century, starting in Italy and spreading through Europe, artificial grottoes were laid out in gardens and castles based on the prototype of Roman nymphaea of the second and third centuries. Such fountain and cave constructions were dedicated to the nymphs, female spirits of nature.

The first still preserved description of the Ambras Bacchus Grotto originates from the travel account of Stephanus Pighius from the year 1574.

The highlight of the reception ceremony for royal guests was the ‘drinking contest’: concealed chains held the guests tightly, and they could only free themselves by drinking all of the wine in a filled vessel, the ‘Willkumb’ (‘welcome’ goblet). For this reason the grotto was named after the Roman god of wine, Bacchus. 

After successfully completing the drinking test, the guests signed their names in one of the three drinking books which are still preserved today in the Ambras collections. The drinking glasses that were used in these rituals are on display in the Kunstkammer.