Catherine Palace: The ongoing mystery of the Amber Room

The spectacular Amber Room in the exquisite Catherine Palace near St Petersburg is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable single rooms anywhere in the world. Astonishingly, as much as 6 tons of amber is said to have been used to decorate this unique room, assembled at huge expense in the late 18th Century by Empress Elizabeth the 1st of Russia.

The room as it appears today, however, is a modern recreation. The original Amber Room was disassembled and looted by the Nazis in World War II during the infamous Siege of Leningrad (the Soviet name for St Petersburg) in 1941; it was taken for display in Germany, and then disappeared in 1945 during the Allied assault on Germany that let to Hitler’s defeat.

Since the war, the whereabouts of the original Amber Room became a mystery that have inspired many adventurers and amateur historians. Over the decades expeditions have searched for the priceless boxes of amber decoration in German silver mines and lakes, where the Nazis supposedly secreted it in the last desperate days of the Third Reich.

Others have searched for the wreck of a ship in which the disassembled Amber Room was supposedly secreted by the Nazis before the ship was torpedoed and sunk by a Soviet submarine.

A more prosaic, and the most likely explanation, however, is that the original Amber Room was in fact destroyed during Allied bombing raids in 1945. Yet the mystery endures and it’s most likely that the truth will never be known for certain.

In this episode of Empire Builders we explore the historic legacy of three of Europe’s greatest powers – the French, Russian and Habsburg Empires – whose royal palaces, cathedrals and other great buildings of the 16th to 18th centuries are some of the world’s most remarkable and spectacular cultural monuments.