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Restoring St. Petersburg

In 1716, King Frederick William I of Prussia gave Peter the Great what became known as the Amber Room, a luminous testimonial to a friendship between nations. Thousands of pieces of soft amber had been carved to form intricate mosaics, gleaming depictions of people, flowers, and insignias in deep shades of gold and red. The elaborate panels, first installed in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, were later moved to the nearby Catherine Palace, in Tsarskoye Selo, where the room remained for more than 200 years.

During World War II, Russian soldiers abandoned the palace as the Nazis advanced; Hitler's army quickly claimed the treasure, reassembling it in the strategic port of Königsberg. By the time Soviet troops reached that city at the end of the war, the amber was gone. For decades, searchers ranging from the East German police to art aficionados followed sketchy rumors as to its location—through Czech villages, down German mines, into the Baltic Sea—to no avail. The room had to be rebuilt.

The re-created Amber Room, unveiled this year in conjunction with St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary, took carvers nearly 25 years to complete. Craftsmen worked painstakingly to duplicate lost techniques of shaping and dyeing six tons of amber. The authentic panels may never be found, but this symbol of Russo-German goodwill is casting its glow anew. Catherine Palace, Pushkin; eng.tzar.ru/catherine.

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