Amber is fossil tree resin, which is appreciated for its colour and beauty. Good quality amber is used for the manufacture of ornamental objects and jewellery. Although not mineralized, it is often classified as a gemstone. Amber occurs in a range of different colours. As well as the usual yellowy-orange that is associated with the colour "amber", amber itself can range from a whitish color through a pale lemon yellow, to brown and almost black. Other more uncommon colors include red amber (sometimes known as "cherry amber"), green amber, and even blue amber, which is rare and highly sought after. A lot of the most highly-prized amber is transparent, but cloudy amber and opaque amber is also very common. Opaque amber contains numerous minute bubbles. This kind of amber is known as "bastard amber", even though it is in fact a true amber.
The resin contains, in addition to the beautifully preserved plant-structures, remains of insects, spiders, annelids, frogs, crustaceans and other small organisms which were trapped by the sticky surface and became enveloped while the exudation was fluid. In most cases the organic structure has disappeared, leaving only a cavity, with perhaps a trace of chitin. Even hair and feathers have occasionally been represented among the enclosures. Baltic amber has a very wide distribution, extending over a large part of northern Europe and occurring as far east as the Urals. The Baltic region is home to the largest known deposit of amber, called Baltic amber, with about 80% of the world's known amber found here. It dates from between 35 to 40 million years ago.
The Amber Road (Polish: Szlak Bursztynowy or Jantarowy Szlak) was an ancient trade route for the transfer of amber. As one of the waterways and ancient highways, for centuries the road led from Europe to Asia and back, and from northern Europe to the Mediterranean. Scientists presume that the trade in amber started as early as in New Stone Age. Amber, obtained in major excavation centres in Jutland and on eastern Baltic Coast began to spread in central Europe reaching even Egypt. German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann who in 1871-1890 excavated Troy in addition to other artefacts found amber beads.
Amber craft in Gdansk
In ancient times Gdansk was one of the cities located along the Amber Route, along which amber was transported from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean. Gdansk has cultivated the tradition of amber craft for ages. The earliest evidence of an amber workshop in Gdansk dates back to the late 10th century. The variety of amber goods then offered was very large, including beads, rings, pendants, dice, pawns, amulets and crosses. The amber works made by the Gdansk craftsmen were meant not only for the local market. They were also sold in other cities on the Polish territory. The turn of 16th and 17th centuries is called the Gdansk "Golden Age". It was when rich city residents, the nobility, aristocrats, the clergy, and Polish royalties placed numerous orders for amber goods. Masterpieces by Gdansk amber artists were considered to be the most precious diplomatic souvenirs for popes, tsars, sultans, caliphs, and the most powerful rulers of Europe. Amber gems became the true hallmark of the city. Today Gdansk is one of the world’s amber capital and the city’s amber masters and their art enjoy world-wide appreciation. The local masters have developed their own amber processing school. Contemporary Gdansk is a respected centre of amber related activities. Here are the main offices of the National Amber Chamber of Commerce and the International Association of Amber Masters. Gdansk hosts the world's largest amber fairs: AMBERIF and AMBERMART.
Did you know that…
· Gdansk History Museum houses Amber Museum, which features an exhibition of "The Polish Sea Gems". (Amber Museum - Branch of the Gdansk History Museum, 47 Dluga St., Gdańsk, www.mhmg.gda.pl
· Archaeological Museum in Gdansk invites to its regular exhibition entitled "Amber through Centuries". It is arranged in two sections picturing amber in nature and culture. The museum arranges practical shows of ancient amber processing technology against a map of amber routes criss-crossing ancient Europe (Archaeological Museum, 25/26 Mariacka St., Gdańsk, www.archeologia.pl
· Museum of Amber Inclusions shares its premises with the Faculty of Biology, Geography, and Oceanography of the University of Gdansk and the world's only Chair of Amber. The Museum displays specimens of prehistoric life captured in amber inclusions. (Museum of Amber Inclusions, University of Gdansk, 46 al. Pilsudskiego St., Gdynia, www.muzeum.gda.pl
· St. Bridget's Church originating from the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries went down in the history annals in August 1980 during the worker strikes. The austere church interior is adorned with a unique work of art, i.e. a monumental amber altar. 11 m high and 6 m wide, arranged in the form of a triptych with an icon of the Working Class Madonna (reproduction of Our Lady of Czestochowa - read more) in the centre. It is adorned with a milk-white amber gown and a crown made of bright yellow amber. (St. Bridget's church, Profesorska St, Gdańsk)
· Summer Amber Festival during St Dominic Fair - The rich calendar of cultural and open-air events organised during the traditional August fair (following the Middle Age tradition) includes a day devoted to amber, the Gdansk treasure. Exhibitions, interesting competitions, jewellery making to the visitors' own designs, presentations, 'amber fashion' shows, and live-workshops providing an insight into the "good stone" processing, arranged amongst open-air stands of Gdansk amber artists provide a splendid opportunity to have fun and buy a beauty souvenir of the Baltic gold. (St. Dominic Fair - the first three weeks of August - in the streets and squares of the Old Town)