What’s the Amber Room?The Amber Room is a unique and elaborate chamber in the Catherine Palace, made of gold leaf and mirrors and topped with amber panels. The original Amber Room was built in the Berlin City Palace before being given to Tsar Peter the Great in 1716. He brought it to the Catherine Palace where it was painstakingly rebuilt and expanded to include over 13,000lb (6 tonnes) of amber. During World War II efforts were made to hide the Amber Room behind wallpaper but eventually, it was discovered by German soldiers, who disassembled it and had it taken to Königsberg. In January 1945, Hitler ordered the looted items in Königsberg to be moved, but in the confusion, the Amber Room was lost. Though sightings have been reported since the end of the war, none of them have proved reliable, and only one small set of fragments was recovered from the family of a German soldier who claimed to have been involved in the theft. It’s now believed that the room was destroyed at some point in the 1940s, potentially by accident, as the materials would have been extremely fragile and difficult to move. In 1979 the Russian government decided to build a replica at the Catherine Palace, a project that took 24 years, 350 different shades of amber, and the collaboration of 40 Russian and German experts in the rare skill of amber craftsmanship. The room is as close as possible to the original, which would be priceless if it were ever valued. The replica which you can see in the Catherine Palace today has an estimated value of over $500 million.
What is the Catherine Palace?The Catherine Palace was named after the woman it was built for - Catherine I of Russia, the second wife of Peter the Great. The original building was a simple summer palace, which was demolished and replaced by her daughter Empress Elizabeth in 1752 with the glorious Rococo-style palace that stands there today. The palace also saw great changes under Catherine the Great, who disliked the (by-then oldfashioned) architecture and the extravagant amounts of money which had been spent by Empress Elizabeth. She had some of the rooms redecorated in the Neoclassical style. After her death, the palace was largely abandoned by the imperial family, with subsequent Tsars and Tsarinas preferring to stay in Alexander Palace nearby. Both Alexander I and Nicholas I requested some Empire-style interiors from Vasily Stasov, but most of them haven’t been restored yet after being destroyed during World War II. However, visitors to the Catherine Palace will be able to see several luxurious rooms used by the Imperial family as well as the magnificent and legendary Amber Room.
What is Zarskoje Selo?Tsarskoe Selo is the name of the town and the collection of parks and palaces within it. Originally called Sarskaya Myza, a version of the Finnish name for the area which meant ‘the manor on an elevated spot’, it later became known as Sarskoye Selo (where ‘selo’ means ‘village’). After the construction of a royal estate there in 1710, it became known as Tsarskoe Selo, or ‘Tsar’s Village’. It’s there that you’ll find the Catherine Palace (which contains the Amber Room), the Alexander Palace, and their respective parks and gardens. After the October Revolution in 1917, the palaces were taken over by the government and turned into children’s educational and health establishments, leading to the renaming of the area as Detskoye Selo, or ‘Children’s Village’. In 1937, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of the poet Alexander Pushkin, the town was given his name. That’s why the area is known as both Tsarskoe Selo and Pushkin.
Can we take photographs?Although you can take photographs throughout Catherine Palace, photography is not allowed in the Amber Room. Members of staff are strict about the rule, but there are so many other beautiful rooms and gardens to take pictures of that you won’t feel like you’re missing out.
How long should I plan for my visit?Once you arrive you should expect to spend between 1 and 2 hours at the Catherine Palace, visiting the Amber Rooms and the other chambers used by the family of the Tsar, although the exact length of time will depend on whether you’re taking a guided tour or renting the audio guide. If you also want to see Catherine Park, the Alexander Palace, and its park, or the Pavlovsk Palace, then you can easily spend a whole day in Pushkin.