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Amber Room: Russian Empire’s Lost Jewel

In 2004, British journalists Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy wrote in their book The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure that, according to their investigation, the historical architecture, called the Amber Room, was destroyed during the Soviet Red Army’s attack on the Königsberg Castle during World War Two. Scott-Clark and Levy’s thesis was denied by Russian officials at the time of publication. This might not be caused by the Russian officials’ protectiveness toward their own country’s lost architecture but the general uncertainty and the lack of concrete and direct information about the Amber Room. Many historians and researchers have presented their theses about the whereabouts of the Amber Room after World War Two, but none can convince the world. The Amber Room was a chamber

In 2004, British journalists Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy wrote in their book The Amber Room: The Fate of the World’s Greatest Lost Treasure that, according to their investigation, the historical architecture, called the Amber Room, was destroyed during the Soviet Red Army’s attack on the Königsberg Castle during World War Two.

Scott-Clark and Levy’s thesis was denied by Russian officials at the time of publication. This might not be caused by the Russian officials’ protectiveness toward their own country’s lost architecture but the general uncertainty and the lack of concrete and direct information about the Amber Room. Many historians and researchers have presented their theses about the whereabouts of the Amber Room after World War Two, but none can convince the world.

ST.PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 24, 2017, Interior of Amber Room in Catherine Palace in St.Petersburg, Russia. (Photo © Danil Voronin | Dreamstime.com)

The Amber Room was a chamber constructed mainly using amber panels decorated by gold leaves, gemstones, and mirrors. Over six tons of amber and gems were used for its construction. According to the currency in 2007, had the Amber Room survived, it would be worth around $142 million dollars, and over $500 million dollars in 2016, reported the Smithsonian Magazine and United Press International.

The construction of the Amber Room began in 1701, under the lead of the designer, the German sculptor Andreas Schlüter and the Danish amber craftsman Gottfried Wolfram. The chamber became a showpiece chamber for King Frederick William I of Prussia and was installed at Charlottenburg Palace in current day Berlin. The golden color of the room made the Prussian Empire an even shinier star among many European nations.

More than a decade later, Peter the Great, Czar of the Russian Empire, praised the Room for the brilliance in its craftsmanship. As a result, Frederick I gifted the Amber Room to Peter the Great to strengthen the Prussia-Russia alliance against Sweden.

The Amber Room was carefully disassembled and reassembled at Catherine Palace, a summer residence at Pushkin for tzars about 30 miles outside of St. Petersburg, under the orders of Czarina Elizabeth.

Elizabeth loved the chamber. She used it as her personal meditation room. Later, she employed the Italian architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli to renovate the chamber, using additional amber and gems. The Italian architect incorporated an easily recognizable late Baroque style. After Rastrelli’s renovation, the chamber reached the staggering worth mentioned before, $142 million in 2006’s currency.

Not only Elizabeth enjoyed the chamber. Many other czars used the Amber Room as a reception room for foreign guests, a gathering center for Catherine the Great, and a trophy place for Alexander II, an amber connoisseur.

Even during the turmoil of many revolutions, wars, and changes in the political system, the Amber Room had survived. However, it did not survive the Germans, posterity of the chamber’s original creator.

During World War Two, Adolf Hitler initiated Operation Barbarossa, sending around three million German soldiers into the Soviet Union. Countless Russian artifacts were looted during the war. Hitler was knowledgeable of the Amber Room’s history, and he believed that the artwork should be returned to its actual owners. As a result, he ordered SS soldiers to dismantle the chamber and ship it away.

Anatoly Kuchumov, the art curator at Pushkin at the time, had attempted to save the chamber before the Nazi’s arrival. But Kuchumov believed that moving the chamber would cause catastrophic destruction to the artwork due to the amber’s brittleness over time. He then hid it behind walls, but SS soldiers still discovered the artifact.

In 1941, German troops reached the Catherine Palace. SS soldiers dismantled the chamber in 36 hours and shipped the chamber to Königsberg, Germany, and reassembled it at the Königsberg Castle along with other art displays. The chamber remained there for two years, until Hitler ordered it to be protected in 1944 against Allied bombing and the advancement of the Soviet Red Army.

During the chaos between the British Royal Air Force’s bombing and Soviet artillery during their advancement, the Königsberg Castle was badly damaged. Alfred Rohde, director of Königsberg’s art museum, was the manager of the exhibition that the Amber Room was a part of. No one knows what Rohde had done to the chamber in 1944 and 1945 amid the warfare. What is certain is that the chamber completely disappeared when Soviet soldiers entered the city of Königsberg. Rohde died in December 1945, taking the secrets about the chamber to his grave. The Königsberg Castle was the chamber’s last known location.

The search for the chamber began immediately after the war and extended into today. Researchers both of the 20th and 21st centuries constructed many theories, such as it was destroyed during the bombing, destroyed by Soviet artillery, secretly shipped away from the Königsberg Castle by the Nazis, or hidden in an undiscovered location underground.

World War Two marked the end to the brilliant life of the chamber.

Saint-Petersburg, Russia – March 25 2021, Interior Amber Room, Catherine Palace, the former Imperial Palace of Russia. (Photo: © Ruslan Gilmanshin | Dreamstime.com)

In 1979, the Soviet government ordered the reconstruction of the Amber Room at its original location in Russia, Pushkin. The reconstruction process would later take 24 years, a huge sum of money, and the collaboration of both Russian and German experts and artisans.

Currently, the reconstruction of the Amber Room is installed at the Catherine Palace, open for tourists from around the world.


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