The Disappearance of the Amber Room of Charlottenburg Palace
The gleaming yellow gold hue of amber is one of nature’s wonders and one which has been sought after and admired for centuries. It is perhaps for this reason that the precious fossilised tree resin was used by European craftsmen in the 18 th century to create an ornately decorated chamber that was fit for royalty. Due to its magnificent beauty and the intricacy of its design, the Amber Room, which combined amber, gold, and precious stones, was once regarded as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. However, the spectacular chamber was hurriedly packed up into crates during WWII and was never seen again, leading some on a quest to recover the missing treasure.
The Amber Room was originally installed in Charlottenburg Palace, which was the home of Frederick I, the first King in Prussia. The room was designed by the German baroque sculptor, Andreas Schlüter, and the Danish amber craftsman, Gottfried Wolfram. Construction of the Amber Room began in 1701 and was completed in 1711. During a state visit to Prussia, the Amber Room caught the eye of the Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great. Interestingly, during Peter’s visit, the Amber Room was actually incomplete, as Frederick William was more interested in martial matters, and did not continue the work on the Amber Room when he inherited the throne of Prussia. Nevertheless, Peter’s interest in the Amber Room meant that Frederick William had the opportunity to gain the favour of the Tsar of Russia. Thus, Frederick William presented the Amber Room to Peter in 1716 in order to cement the newly-formed Prussian-Russian alliance against Sweden.
Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great. Image source .
The Amber Room was shipped to Russia in 18 large boxes, where it was installed in the Winter House in St. Petersburg as part of a European art collection. In 1755, Tsarina Elizabeth had the Amber Room moved to the Catherine Place in Pushkin, named Tsarkoye Selo (Tsar’s Village). As the Amber Room was placed in a larger area, the Italian designer, Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli was employed to redesign the room using additional amber shipped from Berlin. Rastrelli’s work was the first of several renovations of the Amber Room by the Russians. When these renovations were completed, the room covered an area of about 180 square feet, and was decorated with six tonnes of amber and other semi-precious stones. Over the years, the Amber Room was used by the Russian tsars for a variety of functions. Elizabeth, for instance, used the room as a private meditation chamber, while Catherine the Great used it as a gathering room. Alexander II, said to be an amber connoisseur, used it as a trophy room.
The reconstructed Amber Room in Catherine Palace. Photo source .
Spectacular craftsmanship in the reconstructed Amber Room. Photo source .
In 1941, Nazi Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, invaded Russia. When the Amber Room was found by the German soldiers, it was torn down, packed into 27 crates, and sent to Königsberg. There, it was reinstalled in Königsberg’s castle museum. Although the Amber Room was on display for the following two years, the war not going well for the Germans, and the museum’s director, Alfred Rohde, was advised to dismantle the room and crate it away. Less than a year later, Allied bombing raids destroyed the city of Königsberg, and the castle museum was left in ruins. After that, the trail of the Amber Room simply vanishes.
Yet, not everyone is ready to accept that the Amber Room is lost forever. Some believe that the Amber Room was safely hidden by the Germans prior to the destruction of the castle museum. Thus, there have been attempts to track down this treasure. Still, these treasure hunts have not produced results, and the hunt continues. In 2004, after 24 years of work, a reconstruction of the Amber Room was completed in the Tsarkoye Selo, and dedicated by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. Until the original Amber Room is found, if it still exists, this reconstruction is perhaps the closest that we will get to experiencing the magnificence of the real thing.
Featured image: The reconstructed Amber Room . Photo source: Wikipedia.
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Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amber