Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Looted Amber Room Rebuilt From Scratch

APA visitor looking at the Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo as it was presented to reporters on Tuesday.
TSARSKOYE SELO, Northwest Russia -- Elaborately carved amber panels, in shades ranging from butter yellow to dark red, stretch up 8-meter walls. Gilded parrots perch on candleholders, their tiny tilted heads reflected in mirrors. Mosaics of semiprecious stones sparkle, adding to the sensation of being enclosed in an oversized jewelry box.

The legendary Amber Room, which went missing after German troops looted it from an imperial palace during World War II, will make a dazzling reappearance this month after an audacious, quarter-century reconstruction.

"I think never in Russian history has anyone had to restore such a unique historical object literally out of nothing," Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi said Tuesday as he announced the completion of the project.

The lost chamber, a Prussian gift to St. Petersburg's founder, Tsar Peter the Great, had ignited imaginations and inspired a series of treasure hunts over the decades.

President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der will open the room to 47 fellow heads of state at St. Petersburg's 300th birthday bash at the end of May. It will be unveiled for the public next month.

Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm I presented Peter with the elaborately carved chamber in 1716. In exchange, he received his wish: 55 very tall Russian soldiers.

In 1941, German troops who had invaded the Soviet Union reached the suburbs of St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad. Occupying the Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, a one-time Russian imperial residence, they dismantled the Amber Room and took it to the German city of K?nigsberg.

After the war, the Soviet Union annexed the city and renamed it Kaliningrad. However, by the time Red Army got there, the Amber Room had disappeared.

Dmitry Lovetsky / AP

One visitor making a closer examination of the amber used to restore the chamber.

Some said the treasure was buried in a silver mine not far from Berlin; others speculated it was hidden on the shores of the Baltic; and some went as far as South America to carry on the search. The value of the room was estimated at $100 million to $250 million.

In 1979, the Soviet government initiated reconstruction of the room, allocating about $8 million. Germany's Ruhrgas, the biggest importer of Russian gas, joined the project in 1999 and donated $3.5 million, helping guarantee its completion.

Shvydkoi, who presented the restored chamber to reporters Tuesday with Ruhrgas executive board member Achim Middelschulte, said the project had become "a symbol of German-Russian understanding and friendship."

Many of the approximately 30 artisans devoted the better part of their working lives to the project, hunched over microscopes to etch tiny designs into the amber, inhaling amber dust. Some 6 tons of the stone were used.

"This work ... became the raison-d'etre for many of us. And now that it's almost over, many of the most skillful amber carvers are at a loss," said Alexander Krylov, who joined the workshop in 1981.

According to Tatyana Zharkova, a spokeswoman for the Tsarskoye Selo museum, it took 11 years just to research the room and reinvent old techniques.

"From the pictures the experts obtained, one could tell that the room was made of amber of at least 13 various tints, but nobody knew exactly what those tints were," she said.

Experts worked off modern black-and-white photographs of amber of various tints and compared them with prewar pictures, helping them draw conclusions about which shade was used in which panels.

Alexander Kedrinsky, one of the few surviving people who had researched the original Amber Room before World War II, said the new chamber was an improvement over the old.

"The original Amber Room didn't look that impressive really," he said. "It was decaying, had undergone two renovations and needed another."