Amber is fossilized resin, principally from extinct coniferous trees, although amber-like substances from earlier trees are known. It is generally found in association with lignite coal, itself the fossilized remains of trees and other plant material.
For several thousand years, the largest source of amber has been I the extensive deposits along the Baltic coast, extending intermittently from Gdansk right around to the coastlines of Denmark and Sweden.
It is both mined and recovered from Baltic shores after heavy storms. It has been widely traded since ancient times, and a cup carved from amber was discovered in a British Bronze Age burial.
Perhaps the largest single use of amber stones.
was the creation of the “Amber Room” in Catherine the Great’s palace in Russia, a huge room totally lined and decorated with cut amber.
The amber from this room was pillaged by the Nazis in World War II, and was probably destroyed in a fire; however, the room has now been completely restored using newly cut amber.
The Amber Room began its extraordinary history in Prussia. A Danish craftsman, Gottfried Wolffrani, was commissioned by King Frederick I of Prussia to carve an amber chamber for the royal palace at Charlottenburg.
Wolffrani was replaced by the Danzig craftsmen Ernst Schacht and Gottfried Turow, who finished the amber panels in 1711. They were installed, not at Charlottenburg Palace, but in the smoking room of the royal palace in Berlin.
In 1716 Tsar Peter the Great went to Berlin to forge an alliance with Frederick’s son and successor, Frederick William I, against the Swedish king, Charles XIII. To mark their successful agreement, the Prussian king gave the tsar the Amber Room.
Packed into 18 crates, the panels were carried by horse and wagon to St. Petersburg Russia in April, 1717. There they remained until, in 1755, Empress Elisabeth I had them moved to the beautiful Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo Russia.
The room intended for the amber panels was larger than their original chamber in Berlin, so the carving of ten more panels was commissioned in the same style.
By 1765 the enlarged Amber Room was complete.
The ornate panels alternated with 24 Venetian-mirrored rectangular columns which rested on amber bases. A mirror mounted in amber, a gift to Empress Elisabeth from King Frederick II, was also incorporated in the design. To unite the baroque and rococo features, the floor was inlaid with mother-of-pearl; gilded roan lie adorned the white doors; and four Florentine mosaics embellished the rich amber walls.
The Amber Room survived the 1917 Russian Revolution untouched, but in 1941 it was stripped by the invading German army and the amber panels shipped to Konigsberg Castle in eastern Prussia.
In the spring of 1945 the crates containing the Amber Room were almost certainly consumed by a fire that destroyed much of the castle, although many believed that the missing treasure was moved from the castle and hidden elsewhere by the Nazis.
However, after many failed searches, finally, in 1979, the Russian government commissioned the rebuilding of the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace. It was completed in 2005.
Seen on a panel of the Amber Room, this eagle is an emblem of the Prussian king, a reminder that the room was originally commissioned to grace a Prussian palace.
The recreation of the historic Amber Room began in 1982 and required the services of a team of specialized amber carvers. In the mid-1990s, the work was threatened by a lack of funds, but the project was saved by a large donation from a German sponsor to Russia.