Real Mystery: The Amber Room

Often called the Eight Wonder of the World, the Amber Room of Imperial Russia is a true mystery of modern history.  Consisting of giant panels of intricately carved and fitted amber mosaics, this stunning gift from Prussian King Freidrich Wilhelm I to Peter the Great was built between 1701 and 1709.  On its completion, it covered 55 square meters at the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, and contained over six tons of precious carved amber.

But the mystery of the Amber Room lies not in its impressive creation, but its enigmatic ends.  During World War II, Russian curators attempted to remove the panels to protect them from the Nazis, but the old amber crumbled at their attempts. The room was papered over, hidden under dull wallpaper, and the Russians hoped that it might escape Nazi attention.  Sadly, the Amber Room was too famed and valuable a prize to be overlooked.  It was disassembled and carefully transported to Konigsberg, Germany, where it disappeared from the historical record.

There are many theories about what could have happened to it.  Vague reports and wild speculation placed the panels in hidden mine shafts, buried in basements, stolen by soldiers, or even sunk at the bottom of the Atlantic, destroyed in a German submarine. Was it destroyed in Allied bombing?  Stolen by treasure hunters?  Reconstructed in some secret compartment that Geraldo will someday unearth? (Okay, that last one probably won’t happen.) Experts say that it’s entirely possible the amber itself has crumbled into dust, as this fossilized tree resin will deteriorate if not cared for properly. The definitive answer will probably never be known.

While the original can never be duplicated, a reconstruction of the Amber Room was started in 1979 based on original photographs of the famed chamber.  A joint endeavor by Russian artists and German and Russian donations, it was completed in 2003 and dedicated in a joint ceremony by Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a gesture that honored the original Prussian gift and the mutual pride in the project. It now resides again at the Catherine Palace.

The Amber Room has been featured in works of fiction, non-fiction, and film.  If you’re looking for a fictional treatment, Steve Berry’s first thriller was called The Amber Room and the mystery was central to the plot.  For a non-fictional investigation of what might have happened to the room, look up The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure by Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy.

2 thoughts on “Real Mystery: The Amber Room

  1. kara-karina says:

    oh, I went there! It actually doesn’t look as good in reality, although I love amber, it’s just too much in one room. But the whole Ekaterina’s palace is marvelous🙂 Great article!

    1. E Hunter says:

      Oh, I can believe that. It looks pretty overwhelming, even in pictures. I do love the story, though, and the history behind it. Plus the craftsmanship must be amazing. I haven’t been to Russia, but I definitely want to go and this will be on the list of things to see!

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