The Amber room first caught my eye at an age so young I can hardly remember the documentary that introduced it to me. Little me was obsessed with how an entire room could just vanish. Now that I’m older and have google, I know that the Amber room was made of panels of amber, worked with gold (estimated at $142 million in the 2000’s). It could be assembled and disassembled at will. Even now I am obsessed. The history, the mystery, the name dropping, what more can a history buff salivate over?
Construction began on the Amber Room in Prussia in 1701, designed by the notorious German sculptor Andreas Schlüter and meticulously brought to life with the help of Gottfried Wolfram, a Danish amber craftsman. It was originally created for the first King of Prussia, Friedrich I. However, in 1716 the room travelled from Prussia to Russia as a gift to Peter the Great after he admired it during a visit to Prussia. It celebrated the newfound alliance between the two countries and was put together as part of a European art collection in the Winter House in St Petersburg.
It was moved in 1755 by Czarina Elizabeth to the Catherine Palace, still in Russia, where it was expanded to fit the new space by Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, an Italian designer. Between this renovation and extra added pieces in the 18th century it used about six tons of amber and valuable stones. During Czarina Elizabeth’s reign from 1741 to 1762 it was used as her private meditation room. And after her was Emperor Peter III’s rule of six months, and then Russia was in the hands of Catherine the Great, who used the room as a gathering room in the longest reign of a female leader of Russia; 1762 to 1796.
The next time the Amber Room was moved was in 1941 when it was stolen by the Nazis. History’s villain in most stories. Operation Barbarossa was a huge event that moved 3 million German soldiers into Russia. In this wave through the Soviet Union the curators of the Amber Room attempted to disassemble the priceless treasure, and found that it was too fragile. In a last attempt at protection, they covered it with wallpaper. The Germans, who believed it a treasure of their own, considering the German heritage of the original designer, spent 36 hours taking it down after they saw through the last minute wallpaper. They took it to Königsberg, currently known as Kaliningrad, in Germany and it was put back together in the local Castle Museum on the Baltic Coast. In 1944, only three years later, Königsberg was bombed in WWII. That was the last the Amber Room has been recorded, leaving behind a single box of antiques and 86 black and white photographs of the room. The one thing this room did not leave behind are burned amber remains or fragments.
Conspiracies about the Amber Room range from it’s fiery destruction in 1944, to its place at the bottom of the sea on an ill-fated ship, or a hideaway in an underground room locked away and undiscovered. There are stories of a curse that follows the people linked to the room, as they lead short lives of murders and car crashes during investigation periods.
All coloured photos you might see of the Amber Room are of the replica that began reconstruction with new materials from the black and white reference images from prior to WWII in 1979. It was remade in Russia, placed back into Catherine Palace, and took 23 years to complete. It’s very likely that the original Amber Room is in a state of terrible disrepair due to aging amber, but nevertheless, a discovery of multiple lifetimes.
It’s fascinating that we might never know what happened to this fabled room, but one day it could be in the news; “The 8th Wonder of the World has been found”.
Blumberg, J. (2007). A Brief History of the Amber Room. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-the-amber-room-160940121/
Sedunova, I. (2021). Russia’s “eighth wonder of the world”. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20210506-russias-eighth-wonder-of-the-world