The Unique And Mysterious History Of The Amber Room

Featuring six tons of amber, the Amber Room was originally a lavish gift to Peter the Great in the early 1700s, but disappeared toward the end of World War II after it was looted by German soldiers. Before its disappearance, the glittering gold room was considered an “Eighth Wonder of the World,” and historians worldwide have been wondering what happened to it for several decades. Keep reading to learn about the history of the Amber Room, strange facts about its disappearance, and a possible new discovery of the remains.

The Origins Of The Amber Room

Amber room of catherine palace, tsarskoye selo
Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Originally designed in 1701 by a German baroque sculptor named Andreas Schlüter, the Amber Room was considered an “Eighth Wonder of the World.” This was because it was one of the most extravagant architectural feats of its time.

According to Smithsonian magazine, the room was originally intended to be constructed at Germany’s Charlottenburg Palace with the help of amber masters Ernst Schact and Gottfried Turau. Using amber for interior decoration was something that had rarely been done before.

A Look Inside The Amber Room

scale miniature version of the Amber Room
Alexander Demianchuk/TASS via Getty Images
Alexander Demianchuk/TASS via Getty Images

The History Channel states that the amber masters heated the fossilized tree resin, infused it with honey and linseed, and attached it to the wooden panels lining the room. Once the amber was on the panels, they would cover them in gold or silver leaf and add some precious jewels.

The Amber Room also featured gilding, carvings, grand mirrors, statues of angels and children, and candlelight at every corner. When the amber masters were finished, they had made almost half a ton of amber panels.

A Grand Gift For A Royal

peter the great of russia in his armor
Stock Montage/Getty Images
Stock Montage/Getty Images

Originally, the Amber Room was supposed to belong to Frederick, the first King of Prussia, and his wife Sophia Charlotte at their palace in Berlin. Instead, it was given to Peter the Great of Russia in 1716.

Frederick’s son Frederick William I presented it to Peter the Great of Russia as a gift, which created an alliance between Russia and Prussia against Sweden. It was then installed inside the Winter House in St. Petersburg, but was later moved to the Catherine Palace by the order of Czarina Elizabeth, Empress of Russia.

The Amber Room Would Be Worth $500 Million Today

Reconstruction Of The Amber Room Of The Zarkosje Selo Palace
Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

According to Smithsonian magazine, Italian designer Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli was hired to redesign the room in order to fit it into the larger space. When he was finished, it covered about 590-square feet and included over six tons of amber and rare gemstones.

During its heyday, the room was used as a private meditation chamber for Czarina Elizabeth, a gathering room for Catherine the Great, and a trophy room for Alexander II. Historians estimate that if the Amber Room was still intact today, it would be worth over $500 million.

A True Russian Treasure

people in colonial clothes in the amber room
Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The Russian royals couldn’t get enough of the Amber Room. It remained one of the most important places in the country throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, even surviving the Russian Revolution from 1917-1923.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be staying there for long. The Germans came to invade the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II as part of Operation Barbarossa. This would be the last time the public would ever get a chance to see the Amber Room in person.

Hidden In Plain Sight

inside the amber room
Antoine Gyori/Sygma via Getty Images
Antoine Gyori/Sygma via Getty Images

The officials at Catherine Palace knew that the German soldiers were on their way to riot and loot everything they could, so they covered the Amber Room in ordinary wallpaper. But since the amber was so old, it had started to crumble onto the floor and the attempt to hide it failed.

Smithsonian magazine reports that German soldiers dismantled the room because they believed it was made by and for Germans. It was disassembled after only 36 hours, packed into 27 crates, and shipped to Kaliningrad, Germany.

The Amber Room Is Moved To Another Castle

black and white photo of Königsberg Castle
ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild via Getty Images

On October 14, 1941, the Amber Room was placed inside the Königsberg Castle, where it was supposed to be a museum exhibition. It stayed on display for the next couple of years, but officials were advised to take it down again as the war carried on.

The man in charge of dismantling the Amber Room abandoned his post and fled the city. By August 1944, the castle had been destroyed by heavy fire-bombs from the Royal Air Force. A year later, the Soviets’ artillery fire caused even more damage.

Assessing The Damage

the Königsberg Castle after getting damaged
ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild via Getty Images

According to the History Channel, the Soviets sent Professor Alexander Brusov to check the damage and recover stolen artifacts from the Amber Room in May of 1945. After looking into the cellar of the castle, he discovered the burnt remains of almost all of the Florentine mosaics that were inside.

The man who had fled instead of dissembling the room said Brusov was wrong. He refused to accept that he was responsible for allowing the room to be destroyed.

Was It Really Destroyed?

a ship called the Wilhelm Gustloff in the water
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

Although some say that the Amber Room was destroyed along with Königsberg Castle, there are others who believe that there are plenty of other plausible theories as to what happened.

After the war, the chamber wasn’t seen by the public ever again. Some eyewitnesses say they spotted the room being loaded onto a military transport ship called MV Wilhelm Gustloff, which was later torpedoed and sunk by a Soviet submarine. Others think the remains are still somewhere in Kaliningrad.

Some Artifacts Were Found

a  treasure hunter standing in a shaft
Jan-Philipp Strobel/picture alliance via Getty Images
Jan-Philipp Strobel/picture alliance via Getty Images

Historians haven’t stopped looking for the remains of the Amber Room. According to the History Channel, the only pieces of the room that have been found so far are a cabinet and a stone Florentine mosaic. A German soldier supposedly stole the mosaic and German authorities found it with his son in 1997.

In 1998, a group of Germans thought they discovered the Amber Room in a silver mine, while a Lithuanian team thought they found it buried in a lagoon. They were both wrong.

Journalists Go To Investigate

man digging in search of the amber room
Jan-Philipp Strobel/picture alliance via Getty Images
Jan-Philipp Strobel/picture alliance via Getty Images

In 2004, investigative journalists Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy conducted a lengthy investigation on the whereabouts of the room, details of which they included in a book called The Amber Room.

They concluded that the ornate chamber was most likely destroyed when the castle was damaged in 1944 and 1945. After looking at official documents, it was clear to them that other theories were just a ruse to cover up the Soviet artillery fire where they destroyed their own property.

The Amber Room Curse

Visitors walk past images of the missing Amber Room
Bernd Wüstneck/picture alliance via Getty Images
Bernd Wüstneck/picture alliance via Getty Images

According to Smithsonian magazine, there’s a theory about a phenomenon called the “Amber Room Curse.” It includes people involved with the room who have met untimely demises.

Alfred Rohde, the museum director at Königsberg Castle, and his wife caught typhus while the room was under investigation. General Yuri Gusev, a Russian intelligence officer, got into a car crash shortly after talking to a journalist about the Amber Room. And Georg Stein, former German soldier and Amber Room hunter, lost his life in a Bavarian forest.

Reconstruction Of The Amber Room

a blue, gold, and white palace where the amber room reconstruction took place
Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Those who never got to see the real Amber Room in person may be in luck. The Soviet government embarked on a reconstruction of the room in 1979 at the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo.

It took 24 years to be completed with 40 Russian and German amber experts. They did their best to replicate the room by using old photos and descriptions. When it was finished, a total of 350 shades of amber were used on the original panels from the room.

A Possible New Discovery

The German cruiser the
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images
Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

While it’s believed by some that the Amber Room was completely destroyed by heavy fire-bombs and artillery fire, there were people who thought they saw the contents of the room being loaded onto a ship during World War II.

Toward the end of 2020, a German shipwreck called the Karlsruhe was discovered at the bottom of the Baltic Sea through sonar used by a special undersea robot. The wreckage, including some crates nearby, was believed to hold the treasures of the Amber Room.

The Karlsruhe Was A World War II Relic

two ships in the ocean
R. Schmidt-Hamburg/ullstein bild via Getty Images
R. Schmidt-Hamburg/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The Karlsruhe was the final vessel to leave the former German capital Königsberg, now known as Kaliningrad, in 1945.

The ship was used as part of an evacuation plan called Operation Hannibal. Germans used the Karlsruhe to escape when the war started to get extremely dangerous. Soviet forces were able to catch up to the ship and sunk it. Over 1,000 people were aboard the ship and 113 survived after it sunk.

What Was Found In The Shipwreck

a scuba diver near a shipwreck
Alessandro Rota/Getty Images
Alessandro Rota/Getty Images

The divers who were exploring the Baltic Sea believed the 10 chests picked up by the sonar contained valuable items stolen by German soldiers, including remnants of the Amber Room.

The chests were shaken loose from the ship they were loaded onto as it sank almost 300 feet below sea level. According to War History Online, one of the chests contained special rubber seals. These are typically used to keep items safe from underwater damage.

Researchers Can’t Get Close To The Artifacts

a scuba diver looking at a shipwreck
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images
Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

No one knows for sure what is inside the chests because there are a lot of restrictions on who gets to look through them. Tomasz Stachura, the chief diver of the team that uncovered the chests, says that he can only go as far as 130 below sea level.

Some believe the chests may hold priceless paintings, precious jewels, and many other decorations from the Amber Room. The artifacts could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Waiting A Little Longer

inside the amber room
DeAgostini/Getty Images
DeAgostini/Getty Images

Officials working on uncovering the unique artifacts from the shipwreck say that it won’t be examined at least until April of 2021. Aside from the crates, Stachura says the Karlsruhe contains military vehicles and some porcelain.

According to Baltitech, “The vessel took 360 tons of returnable goods in uneven crates.” Experts believe that most of the artifacts are in good condition and they expect archaeologists to complete a lengthy examination when the time is right.

Retrieval Will Take A Lot Of Manpower

inside the amber room
Antoine Gyori/Sygma via Getty Images
Antoine Gyori/Sygma via Getty Images

There are so many valuable items that need to be retrieved from the bottom of the Baltic Sea that one research team couldn’t possibly do it all. According to Stachura, his crew may need help from the military to excavate the site.

He goes on to explain that there will be plenty more physical and logistical challenges for the daunting recovery mission. “Resources are limited and the scale of the task is vast,” said Stachura.

No End In Sight Just Yet

inside the amber room
Peter Bischoff/Getty Images
Peter Bischoff/Getty Images

All of these challenges make the resolution of the missing Amber Room all the more complicated. The story of the Amber Room has a beginning and a middle, but there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight if Stachura’s team doesn’t get to investigate soon.

“This story must be completed,” said Stachura. Another diver on Stachura’s team stated that the artifacts from the shipwreck “may provide groundbreaking information on the disappearance of the legendary Amber Chamber [Room].”

A Renowned Region Of Italy

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craig_s_bell/Twitter
craig_s_bell/Twitter

Our story takes place in the Riace Marina in the region of Calabria, Italy. The area is in Southern Italy; many find Italy to look like a boot, in which case Riace would be somewhere around the big toe.

The larger area of Calabria would be from the tip of the toe to about halfway up the heel, as shown in this image. This region is known for its ancient findings and has some of the earliest records of human life in Italy.

The Open Air Museum

A-Diver-Was-Exploring-Off-The-Coast-Of-Italy-When-He-Unearthed-Two-Astonishing-Ancient-Discoveries-1-23-screenshot-78087
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

Calabria has been nicknamed the “Open Air Museum” thanks to its abundance of ruins and archeological findings. While the entire country of Italy is a gold mine for ancient artifacts, the region of Calabria is especially dense.

Treasure that any ancient history buff would dream of discovering can be found there. However, the young man who discovered something while scuba diving was not a historian. He was an everyday guy on vacation from his life as a chemist.

An Average Man On Vacation

GettyImages-122341032-43880
Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images
Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

Stefano Mariottini was just your average chemist on a vacation from his residence in Rome. He chose the south of Italy to soak up the sun on the coast.

Though he likely knew that the place he’d chosen to go– Riace Marina– was in one of the ancient ruin capitals of the world, nothing could have prepared Stefano for what was about to happen. It was at the very end of his trip that his life would change forever.

An Amateur Scuba Diver

GettyImages-841229172-64606
Getty Images
Getty Images

Stefano decided to spend his last vacation day scuba diving about 200 yards off the Riace Marina. Despite not being the most experienced scuba diver, the pressure of it being his last day may be what motivated him to reach further out.

The water is this region is clear and the conditions were ideal. Whether he realized it or not, he was swimming in an area that was once completely occupied by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Examining Fish

GettyImages-111016357-87197
David LEFRANC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
David LEFRANC/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Stefano spent much of his time doing what most tourists do when they scuba dive: examining schools of fish. Not every body of water is as crystal clear as the area he chose to dive in, making it a good spot to become familiar with underwater life.

His unclouded line of vision is also what enabled a discovery to happen. Now that he was familiar enough with diving, he could explore below the water’s surface without hesitation. That’s when he found it.

Unexplored Territory

GettyImages-860857316-42494
Getty Images
Getty Images

The novice diver took his last dive of the day sometime in the afternoon. Since this would likely be the last time he went scuba diving for a while, he dared to explore an area he’d yet to check out.

He found that rocks were covering the bottom of a reef bed. Since many unusual creatures are not out in plain sight, he figured this would be a good place to find something exotic. He had no idea how right he was.

A Human Arm?

GettyImages-828092382-96858
Getty Images
Getty Images

The first thing he noticed was that there were, in fact, a plethora of exotic fish hiding in that reef bed. He was taken aback by all of the mesmerizing creatures until something else stole his attention.

At first, the object looked like a human arm. Shocked and low on oxygen, Stefano returned to the surface of the water. He refueled his tank and braced himself for what was to come. Then, he bravely returned to the spot he had been.

The Discovery Of A Lifetime

statue-in-the-sea-26753
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

Stefano realized that he was right about his finding being an arm, but it didn’t exactly belong to a human. As he went closer, he reached out to touch the arm and immediately realized it was far too firm to be a human.

His chemistry background may have come in handy (no pun intended) because it was clear to Stefano exactly what this item was made of. The arm was made of bronze that had aged in the water.

The Hidden Gem

Riaces-Bronze-66252
Silvia/Pinterest
Silvia/Pinterest

Realizing that the hand was made of bronze, Stefano quickly proceeded to uncover whatever the hand was attached to. He pushed the sand to the side to reveal an entire statue of a man.

The item was clearly ancient based upon its look and condition. However, Stefano didn’t have an eye for this sort of thing since that was not his expertise. He knew that he would need to call it in. But then he made his second unbelievable discovery.

More To Uncover

underwater-excavation-51027
ScubaDiver_Rob/Pinterest
ScubaDiver_Rob/Pinterest

Stefano was mesmerized by his find. The exhilaration of revealing something that held a key to the past may be what motivated him to keep digging. He spent hours uncovered the statue.

His attention to detail brought him a second round of wild success when Stefano stumbled upon something else hidden at the bottom of the see. Near the initial statue, he’d found yet another statue! Bothof them were undoubtedly ancient artifacts.

Careful Removal

Riace-Bronze-Underwater-43123-1-29162
Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

As soon as he could, Stefano notified the proper authorities. News traveled fast and before long, people gathered around on the coast of the Riace Marina to catch a glimpse of the mysterious finds.

While everyone was eager to bring the objects onto land for a closer look, doing so proved to be a delicate process. The pressure of the water could do damage to the precious items if they were improperly removed.

Bringing The Statues To The Surface

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@romepix/Twitter
@romepix/Twitter

Experts devised a way to excavate the statues without damaging them by knocking into a reef on the way up or squeezing it too tightly with the ropes. Despite sitting in water for potentially thousands of years, the statues were remarkably well preserved.

At first glance, this image of one of the statues coming out of the water looks like a live man. The discoloration was the predominant aesthetic damage, but a lot more would go into restoring these statues than meets the eye.

The Proud Discoverer

smiling-stefano-16205
John Trikeriotis/Twitter
John Trikeriotis/Twitter

Here, Stefano smiles while squatting down in front of one of the statues he spotted. It’s difficult to imagine the pride one would feel knowing that they accomplished such a huge achievement by complete accident.

He’s pictured next to a fellow scuba diver, who may have been nearby when the discovery was made. While the crowd may have been smitten with Stefano and his good luck, the real skill would come in when the professionals attempted to restore the items.

Calling In The Experts

examining-the-statues-34929
Saida El Alloumi/Twitter
Saida El Alloumi/Twitter

Archeologists were needed to predict what these statues were, other than male figures, and who had made them. The key to both questions would come from determining how old they were and then working backward from there.

Researchers and scientists would be needed in order to put together the many pieces of this puzzle. For the time being, all that anyone knew what the nickname they had been given. The first one that was found was called Statue A, and the second would be referred to as Statue B.

A Greek And Roman Mixture

Riace-Bronze-87301
Quo Que/Pinterest
Quo Que/Pinterest

One fascinating thing about these statues is that they were truly a product of their environment. Remember when we mentioned that southern Italy had been a popular spot for immigrant Greeks?

While the date of the statues determined that they were made by the Romans, several features suggested something else. Both the style and the size of the statues are characteristic of Greek art. This suggests that both statues may be a symbol of the fusion of two cultures.

Not The Same Age

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Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

Since the statues were found in such close proximity, you would assume that they would be the same age, or at least made by the same artist. However, both of these assumptions were proven incorrect.

Statue A was determined by experts to have been the older of the two, created somewhere around 450 BC by the artist Myron. Statue B, on the other hand, is thought to be a work of Alkamenes and was determined to be a few decades younger than the other.

How Did They Get There?

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Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

While scientists have managed to uncover a great deal about these statues in terms of where they likely come from and what they are made of, they have yet to resolve the mystery of how they got to the bottom of the ocean.

One theory is that there was a shipwreck, but that was quickly debunked due to lack of evidence. Another was that they were thrown off-board on purpose during a pirate chase. However, we may never find out the reason they were in the ocean.

On Display At Last

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Let Me Know/Youtube
Let Me Know/Youtube

The statues were first put on display in 1981, almost a decade after Stefano stumbled upon them while scuba diving. They have since resided at the Archeological Museum in Reggio Calabria.

According to Let Me Know, around 130,000 people have come to visit the statues each year since they were put on display. For art enthusiasts, they are an important piece of historical evidence. Even for the average visitor, they are a marvel to look at, especially given their age.

The Conspiracy

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Santi Visalli/Getty Images
Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Mysterious items such as these statues don’t usually come without their share of conspiracies. One belief that gained some attention originated in the mind of Giuseppe Braghò. In 2008, the art detective claimed that there were not two statues found that day, but three.

According to Braghò, one of the three statues was taken before the authorities were notified. He supposedly had documents that would prove that one of the statues was removed and that the Getty Museum in Los Angeles was involved. The museum simply denied the allegations.

A Legendary Discovery

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While some questions still circulate the mysterious statues found at the bottom of the ocean, one thing is for sure and that is that they are a legendary find. One reason they are so highly regarded is because of their impeccable design.

Even a thousand years later, the ivory eyes still are bright. The lips are made of copper and the teeth of silver. It’s hard to believe that such a monumental discovery was made by an amateur scuba diver on vacation in south Italy.