In the beautifully renovated Mariacka Street in the center of Gdańsk, you will find one shop with amber jewelry and decorative objects next to another. When the weather is nice, the showcases with them are even on the street. But they also have a nice shop in the Amber Museum. If you buy a piece of jewelry or an amber item from these stores, you should also receive a certificate of authenticity; the imitations, which are made of plastic, are said to be able to detect the ultraviolet light of a special lamp.
The Amber Museum is very popular in Gdańsk. It is visited by 220,000 people a year. Its creators placed it in the originally adapted premises of a large medieval mill. It has a strange, mysterious atmosphere. Right at the beginning you will come across a unique, almost 70 kilogram block of raw dark amber from Sumatra. It is the largest in the world. But you will also see pieces of amber that contain insects, small animals, plant fragments and other artifacts. They are called inclusions and are highly valued: they tend to be rarer.
They are valuable to scientists
Amber is a hardened resin from conifers that grew on earth millions of years ago. Their age is usually between 25 and 50 million years, but the oldest piece found was up to 320 million years old. It usually has different shades of golden honey color, but it can also be yellow, white or almost transparent, but also green, blue or black. It depends on the ingredients it contains.
The film Jurassic Park created a myth around these special hardened resins, in which scientists isolated dinosaur DNA from the blood of a mosquito encased in amber and cloned it. Of course, such a thing is just a Hollywood fairy tale, which is not possible in real life. But this does not mean that inclusions have no meaning for scientists. On the contrary, thanks to them they learned a lot of interesting information about animals and plants from ancient times. They didn’t even know about the existence of a number of them. They look remarkable and a little mysterious in the museum display and in the enlarged photos.
In the Amber Museum, you will learn a number of interesting facts about this mineral. About its origin, extraction, processing, about its former use for treatment, which today we look at with a grain of salt, about the amber path that led from the Baltic to the Mediterranean Sea since ancient times, etc. On the top floor of the museum, you will see jewelry and other objects that amber was made by medieval and contemporary craftsmen and artists. Including a jewelry box, chess, an electric guitar, a pint of beer or perhaps an urn for cremated remains.
It was created in 1900 for the World Exhibition in Paris and in 1952 was to become a gift for Stalin on his birthday. The authors of this eccentric idea were perhaps lucky in that Stalin died before he received it and had time to take a fatal offense. His successors from the Politburo decided to embalm the dictator’s body and display it in the mausoleum on Red Square, only to later have him buried secretly, quietly and without honors by the Kremlin wall. Meanwhile, the urn returned to Gdańsk just as quietly.
Gdańsk is also home to Amberif, the largest international fair for amber, costume jewelery and gemstones in Poland and one of the largest in Europe (more at amberif.pl).
The most valuable thing that artisans created from amber was the legendary Amber Chamber – its colorful history is shown in the museum in Stegne, about 50 kilometers east of Gdańsk, together with a collection of interesting inclusions. The chamber was commissioned by the Prussian King Frederick I. However, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great liked it immensely, so Frederick I donated it to him as a sign of friendship (1716).
For more than 200 years, it stood in the Tsar’s palace near St. Petersburg. From there, during the Second World War, the Germans took her to Königsberg (Královka), today’s Kaliningrad. Towards the end of the war, it disappeared, and experts and treasure hunters are still searching for it in vain. Its value is incalculable. In the meantime, an impressive copy was created in St. Petersburg, on which six tons of amber fell.
Search as a business
Many people who walk the local beaches around Gdańsk with their heads down are looking for amber. Many of them do it just for fun, others improve their household budget. According to internet sources, the price per gram is around 150 CZK on average. However, when I looked at the prices of specific ambers, it was more like 100 CZK. The price of inclusions is of course higher.
How much chance do amateur searchers have of finding anything? If they know where to look and when, they’re pretty decent. The best time is mainly from autumn to spring, after storms that clear up the shallow seabed. Interestingly, not immediately after them, but the next day. It takes a while for the sea to wash the relatively light pieces of hardened resin to the shore or at least to it.
According to qualified estimates, people find about 6 tons of amber a year on the beaches of the Polish Baltic. Compared to the 1018 tons that are extracted industrially in the country from the four most abundant deposits, this is a small amount, but not completely negligible.
If you would like to try searching for it as an interesting experience, you can start anywhere, for example in the vicinity of Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot. One of the famous areas are the beaches to the east of Gdańsk, i.e. those that start near the village of Mikoszewo and continue to Kąty Rybackie. They can advise you, for example, at the information centers of the Pomeranian Tourist Organization. In addition, you must follow certain rules when searching.
On the coast of the Baltic Sea lies the town of Jantar, where the world championship in amber fishing takes place every year in August. It is attended by around 200 people from Poland and abroad. It is a race to see who can “catch” the most of this petrified resin in a defined area and within a prescribed time limit. With the fact that they all have the same amount scattered on their territory. For many it is a passionate competition, for others it is mainly fun. It is no coincidence that concerts and other social events and games are also held here.
The massage room of the Mera Spa in Sopot is dimly lit. The physiotherapist starts massaging the flats of my feet first to stimulate the energy points on them. Then he moves on to the legs, back, arms and other parts. During the massage, she uses smooth amber “stones” and amber body butter (it is said that pieces of this mineral substance are scattered in it). It smells gently of vanilla and coconut. After it, the skin remains moisturized and gently smoothed or rather stretched.
When it rubs against the skin, a negative electric charge is created. To what extent it can participate in the relaxation of the body and its regeneration, or what other effects it can have on it, that is a topic for debate rather for experts. I felt very pleasant and relaxed after the massage. When she finished, we drank tea with other clients in the rest room and watched the smooth surface of the Baltic through the glass wall, which turned slightly pink after the sunset.
They also do massages with amber “stones” or butter in other spa facilities. You can find a number of tips in, for example, the Amber Inspirations brochure, which can be requested at the already mentioned tourist information centers.
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