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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

St. Petersburg, Russia Celebrates 300th Anniversary

Aired May 30, 2003 - 20:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have one last item in our timeline. It's happening right now, and it continues throughout the weekend. Russian President Vladimir Putin is personally taking charge of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations.
St. Petersburg is Mr. Putin's home town. And as part of the tricentennial festivities, he is hosting dozens of world leaders, including President Bush. Mr. Bush will arrive tomorrow. President Putin has been a driving force behind efforts to restore St. Petersburg to its glory days after decades of Soviet-era decline, when it was known as Leningrad.

Jill Dougherty takes us on a tour of one remarkable restoration project.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): It looks like a jewelbox, the Katherine Palace in the countryside near St. Petersburg, a gift from Russian Czar Peter the Great to his wife.

Inside, a gem, a room entirely covered in amber, like an array of golden sunsets, glowing in various shades of yellows and reds.

(on camera): The work is so detailed, it's like the art of making jewelry. You really need your glasses to see some of it. For instance, the god Neptune with his tiny crown. And over here, maidens dance in a forest as two swans float by.

(voice-over): But this is a replica of the original Amber Room built more than 300 years ago on orders of Frederick I, king of Prussia. The original Amber Room, carved by German artisans, was called the eighth wonder of the world. Frederick's son gave it as a gift to Czar Peter the Great.

(on camera): In September of 1941, the Nazis captured the Katherine Palace and within hours they took down the amber panels from the walls, crated them up, and shipped them off to Germany. But to this day, no one knows their fate. The eighth wonder of the world became one of the biggest mystery stories in the world.

(voice-over): Its disappearance launched a global treasure hunt that continues today.

IVAN SAUTOV, TSARSKOYE SELO MUSEUM (through translator): The Amber Room was a work of decorative and applied art that has no equivalent anywhere. There's nothing else like it. Its loss was a loss for world culture.

DOUGHERTY: Luckily, the original room was photographed in the 1930s. But the pictures were in black and white. Russian artisans created a reverse color chart and began the painstaking task of recreating the Amber Room.

Alexander Krilov (ph) is the man who heads the Amber Room workshop at the Katherine Palace. Using tiny drills and wearing magnifying glasses, Alexander carves a delicate cameo from amber. Behind him, a miniature Amber Room he built in his spare time, precise to the smallest detail.

Raw amber, he tells me is a milky white. To get the warm tones, it must be heated or stained with organic dyes.

Six tons of amber were used for the project. The original Amber Room, experts say, was valued conservatively at $150 million. It took about $11.5 million to create the replica.

This weekend, the new Amber Room will be officially unveiled and open to the public in celebration of the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg -- even as the location of the original Amber Room remains a mystery.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, St. Petersburg.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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