History of Amber


The Baltic amber dates back to the time 37-42 million years ago. During that period the resin of trees hardened and weathered, which created the unique charm of the Baltic amber.

At the time when amber was being formed, a land mass called Fenno-Sarmatia covered what is now Scandinavia, while present-day Europe lay underneath the Thetys Sea. The sap was carried from inland by the River Eridan and deposited in its delta: the present Bay of Gdañsk. It is here that the largest deposits of amber are found.

Fenno-Sarmatia was covered by the Eocene amber forest. The forest was mixed, most likely pine and oak, with the sap producing Pinus succinifera pine as the dominant species. Here and there magnolias, sequoias and cinnamon trees grew.

Thuja and cypress trees were equally abundant as was the moss and the ferns in the undergrowth. The undergrowth was probably saturated with water, otherwise the liquid sap flowing from the trees would have soaked into the ground.

The Beginning

The oldest cut and polished amber pieces are dated back to the palaeolithic era (40000 - 10000 BC) - the end of ice age. Amber was known and used by humankind since the very beginning.

The biggest number of amber workshops was founded in Gdansk and in Kurpie (northeast Poland on a big lowland called Mazowsze). Besides jewellery, craftsmen produced boxes, figures and mosaics. Amber was trendy in whole Europe. In the 2nd century, special workshops were established in Italy, which produced genuine decorations for the Roman Emperor.

The Amber Tracks

Egyptians and Arabians also appreciated amber. They had to make a long way to get to the Baltic Sea to buy amber. The caravans traveled along so-called “amber tracks”, which were by no means safe. Tradesmen often encountered thieves, pirates, bandits and robbers on their way.

The first route led from the Adriatic coast, through the land of present-day Hungary and Moravia, to the Baltic Sea. The second one led through the Mediterranean Sea and the Stones of Hercules towards Ultima Thule (the end of the world). The merchants used to land on litom electra (amber coast) and travel to the Baltic Sea. The third track led through Eastern Europe, through the Black Sea, the rivers Dnieper, Dvina and Vistula.

Amber was also beloved in Asia. Muslims pray using rosaries made of “Baltic Gold”. There are many amber jewellery workshops in China, India and Birma.

Gdansk - The City of Amber

Gdansk used to be the center of European amber craftsmanship. Unfortunately, the Teutonic monks desired to occupy it. Once they got to the city, they murdered many of its inhabitants and burnt their houses. It happened on 14th November 1308. Historians named this event “The Gdansk Massacre”.

Afterwards the amber market crashed. Polish craftsmen did not get permission to do their work. Raw material was exported to Brugge and Lubeck or sold to the East. People who concealed amber were even sentenced to death.
It took 100 years to change that situation. On 15th July 1410 the Polish army defeated the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Grunwald. The monks abandoned Gdansk and fled to the Malbork Castle (Marienburg). The citizens of Gdansk were so resentful that they completely ruined the Teutonic Castle in Gdansk.

People enjoyed the renaissance of amber craft. The Amber Guild was founded in 1477. Workshops produced caskets, jewellery, spoons, sculptures, miniatures of sailing-ships, birdcages, cups and oil lamps made of silver and amber. According to the guild law, no more than 40 amber workshops had permission to run. It guaranteed high quality of goods.

After 1793 Gdansk was detached from Poland and become a Prussian city. It was no longer so gorgeous and splendid. Trade and craftsmanship collapsed. Impoverished citizens could not afford to buy expensive goods and masterpieces. Therefore, craftsmen started to produce cheap, tacky souvenirs.

The Amber Room

The Amber Room was the most famous masterpiece of Gdansk craftsmen. It was commissioned by Frederic I - King of Prussia. It consisted of amber picture frames, medallions, lockets, coats of arms and sculptures of Roman goddesses - Minerva and Pomona.

In 1717 Russian Emperor Peter the Great visited Berlin and desired to possess the Amber Room. The precious relic was moved in boxes to St. Petersburg. However, it was not reconstructed until 1743. The Amber Room was first opened in 1746 and then in 1755 moved to Tsarskoe Syolo.

The interior of Tsarskoe Syolo was bigger than original, so Empress Elizabeth I employed craftsmen to complete the work. The missing parts were replaced with mirrors and mosaics of Ural and Caucasian decorative stones. The ceiling was beautifully painted and the floor was covered with a mosaic of the most valuable wood. It was completed in the 70’s of the 18th century.

In 1942, during World War II, the Germans reclaimed their lost treasure. They reassembled the room in the Krolewiec Castle (Koenigsberg). The dangers of the war, however, forced them to dismantle it again. Despite the extensive search, no trace of the missing amber treasure has been found since. Most probably the boxes with The Amber Room burned down during the fire of the Królewiec castle in April 1945.
In the late seventies of the 20th century the reconstruction of The Amber Room began at Tsarskoe Syolo (later renamed Pushkino) under the supervision of Alexander Zhuravlow.


In the 19th century craftsmen began to use machines to cut and polish amber. Only Kurpians produced handmade amber goods. Their works were a huge sensation during the Paris World Fair in 1878.

The greatest amber ledges are located in the Sambia Peninsula (Russia).