The Amber Room was one of the prized possessions of Russia, first presented to the Tsars in 1717 by German leader Frederick William I. It was hailed as the “eighth wonder of the world” and is one of the most worthy pieces of art to hold that spot. The room was gorgeous, rich, and spectacular and was made almost entirely of precious golden amber from the Baltic region. It enjoyed its place in the Winter Palace for many years until the outbreak of World War II. Nazis, notorious for stealing many artworks (some of which has never been found), sacked the Winter Palace and the room’s whereabouts are unknown today. Rather than devote an eternity to find a room and its contents that were most likely dismantled and completely torn apart, the Soviet government invested time and resources to rebuild it from scratch. Though some endeavors were made to hunt down and locate the room, it has never been found, and it was last seen in Konigsberg, 1945. The effort to rebuild the room began in 1979, and it was opened to the public in 2003.
Today, the Amber Room mystery remains unsolved as the original has not been found.
As the name implies, the Amber Room is made mostly of amber. Much of the amber used to create the room came from the Baltic region; it was imported through trade and seized through conquest by numerous countries. The region fell under Prussian control, and crafting works of art with amber became a prestigious trade in the country. Frederick III and craftsmen proposed the idea of the room; thus, the artisans began working with amber to meet the demands of their newly ascended king. Several panels were to be made of amber for the palace, but this plan fell through. The lead artist, Andreas Schluter, and the craftsman behind the room, Gottfried Wolfram, were in hot water with Frederick III. Schluter was discharged from the entire operation, and he left Prussia for good. Wolfram was met with even more severe measures. He was effectively fired without pay, and the government seized his workshop. He petitioned to get it back for years until authorities had enough and threatened to arrest him, forcing him to flee Prussia. Four of the panels were complete when Frederick William took the throne. He cared little for the room and had it placed in the armory, presumably never to see the light of day again. Nevertheless, when Czar Peter I visited Prussia, Frederick William presented the four unfinished panels to the Russian leader. Frederick William traded the room for a company of grenadiers, and the room was sent to St. Petersburg at the next available opportunity.
The Russians finished it in 1745 and moved it to the Winter Palace. The room had to be kept cool, even in winter, because the candles would raise the temperature enough to melt the glue. So the room mainly remained untouched, except for a few restorations. Even the Russian Revolution did not harm the room. However, in 1941, the German army invaded and successfully stormed St. Petersburg. Russian authorities tried desperately to save the room, even covering it with wallpaper to fool the pillaging Nazi troops, but it was ultimately discovered and looted.
The location of the Amber Room is a complete mystery even today. There is evidence to suggest that a search for it is entirely futile. While it was last seen in Konigsberg Castle, some scholars point out that the castle was reduced to nearly a pile of rubble after devastating bombing campaigns. In all likelihood, the room was destroyed. If that was not enough, a Soviet advance demolished even more buildings, including the castle, in 1945.
Further evidence of this is that only fragments of the room have been found, never the whole panels of amber. Boris Yeltsin, President of the new Russian government after the Soviet Union’s collapse, claimed to have known where the Amber Room was located. A search of the supposed area turned up nothing. Similar reports have come in, and eager treasure hunters have searched for the room, often in vain. If the room exists in any other capacity than fragments and pieces, it has not been found. Some have speculated that the amber would be unusable or severely tarnished even if it were found, and reconstruction would be necessary anyway. The fact that the amber is old and brittle makes the idea of trying to find it buried in a Nazi shipwreck pointless. Even if all panels were retrieved from the bottom of the sea, they would likely be ruined.
If the Amber Room mystery is ever solved, it may produce more questions than answers.
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Alford, Kenneth D.. Nazi Plunder: Great Treasure Stories Of World War II. United Kingdom, Hachette Books, 2003.
Blumberg, Jess. “A Brief History of the Amber Room.” Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Aug. 2007, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-the-amber-room-160940121.
Kunz, George Frederick. “The Crown Jewels of Russia.” Art & Life, vol. 10, no. 6, 1919, pp. 288–292. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20543016.
Shor, Russell. “The History and Reconstruction of the Amber Room.” Gems & Gemology, vol. 54, no. 4, 2019. Crossref, doi:10.5741/gems.54.4.393.
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