Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mystery of The Lost Amber Room

In the grand palace of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great and Empress of Russia, there once existed a magnificent golden room adorned from floor to ceiling with precious amber, gold and other semi-precious stones. For nearly two hundred years the Amber Room dazzled visitors to the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg. But then the Nazis invaded, and the Amber Room, with its 6 tons of amber valued between $140–500 million, vanished without a trace.

The Amber Room was originally installed at the Berlin City Palace, the winter residence of Frederick I, the first King of Prussia. The room was designed by German baroque sculptor Andreas Schlüter and constructed by the Danish amber craftsman Gottfried Wolfram, and later by Ernst Schacht and Gottfried Turau from Danzig. When Peter the Great of Russia paid a visit in 1716 and showed interest in the Amber Room, King Frederick I's son Frederick William I, who prized his military prowess over his late father’s artistic endeavors, gifted the room to Peter to cement the Prussian-Russian alliance against Sweden.
The Russians installed the Amber Room in the Winter House in St. Petersburg before Peter’s daughter, Czarina Elizabeth, decided to move the Room to the Catherine Palace in 1755. The room was restored and enlarged throughout the 18th century. It became Catherine the Great’s private meditation chamber and a gathering room for her intimate circle, and later Alexander II (1818-1881) used the Room as a trophy room for his amber collection.

In 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, and began looting tens of thousands of art treasures across the country. They had already set their eyes on the Amber Room, which they believed rightfully belonged to the Germans. The curators of the Catherine Palace tried to disassemble and hide the Amber Room, but over the years the amber had dried out and started to crumble. So a half-hearted attempt was made at hiding the room behind a wallpaper. But it didn’t fool the Nazis. Within 36 hours they tore down the room and shipped it to Königsberg, Germany, in present-day Kaliningrad, where it was reinstalled in Königsberg's castle museum.

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