Amber is particularly associated with the Baltic region, specifically because of the abundance of deposits of this material in the area. Because of historical relations (The Western Prussia Natural Museum in the Green Gate existing before WWII) and primarily because of today’s activities, Gdańsk claims the title of the world capital of amber.
In February 2000 Mr. Paweł Adamowicz, the Gdańsk City Mayor stated that under the decision of the City’s Administration, an Amber Museum be established as a branch of Gdansk History Museum. The official opening ceremony of the Amber Museum was held on June 8, 2006. Its establishment is a fundamental element of the development of the city’s tourist strategy and an important cultural event.
The temporary seat of the Amber Museum is located in a listed 14th century Gothic building with Renaissance additions, which is unique even on a European level. It used to be a key element of the medieval fortifications. This is the Fore Gate Complex of Długa Street (the so called Gdansk Barbican) located in the Old Town at the crossroads of the major tourist routes.
The architecture of the Fore Gate at Długa Street forced the substantive division of the exhibition. Two separate tourist routes follow two major themes:
I- the history of amber and amber craft, which is presented on subsequent levels of the prison Gate, which enables covering the story from millions of years ago;
II- for architecture lovers, the extensive and fascinating history of the Fore Gate presented on the first floor, i.e. the Neck and the Torture cells.
Amber is a fossil resin of coniferous trees, commonly called Pinus succinifera i.e. amber generating pine, from about 40 million years ago. It is assumed that amber originates from a few resin generating trees, and predominantly from just one of them. Baltic amber is one of many types of fossil resins found in the world.
The beginnings of its history, i.e. both the role of amber in the development of culture and the discovery of deposits, goes back to the oldest period of human history – the stone age. The oldest findings of amber products originate from the middle Palaeolithic era (about 300-40 thousand years B.C.). It was used by tribes in those times to make various types of amber jewellery and amulets.
Gdańsk is located at the crossroads of historical and present amber trading routes.
The first guild of amber craftsmen was created in Gdansk in 1477. The peak period of amber crafts in Gdańsk was in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Numerous amber works were created in the workshops at the behest of wealthy merchants, nobility, aristocracy, clergy and Polish kings.
After 300 years, the idea of creating large unique amber products apart from amber jewellery, was reborn in Gdańsk. The traditions of Gdańsk amber craftsmen are reflected primarily in the monumental sculptures, decorative and everyday use items.
Nowadays amber is used usually in jewellery. The popularity and trend for amber jewellery goes back to the fifties and still stimulates artists and producers.
The historical exhibition shows the creation and phases of development of the Fore Gate of Długa Street. At present the exhibition consists of three associated parts: the Prison Gate, the Neck with the Prison House and the Torture House. The building was constructed in stages and its current look is the result of many transformations and modernisations. The tower is the oldest part, its construction being started in the mid 14th century as part of the medieval fortifications of the Main City. The Fore Gate Complex was modified many times in the 15th and 16th centuries. During its long history it served many functions: initially military and communication, and then for over 300 years it was used as a prison.