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Thursday, 06 January 2011 19:27

Polish Women on the Amber Route

Written by  Robert Pytlos
Lidia Popiel and Monika Richardson on the Amber Route Lidia Popiel and Monika Richardson on the Amber Route Photo: Patrycja Sołtan/The Association of Cities and Sea Provinces

Under this slogan the Ambassadors of Amber Monika Richardson and Lidia Popiel are preparing a publication promoting the amber route. They gathered the materials during an eight-day long journey through Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary, looking for traces of the ancient and contemporary amber routes.

To reconnoitre Italy

The day before starting, the authors met with Elżbieta Krasińska an amber jewellery designer who has been living and creating in the Eternal City for many years. The amber route topic has always been close to the designer from Sopot's heart and has often appeared as a motif in her jewellery. "I often say that it is my contemporary "way home""- states Elżbieta Krasińska. The designer has taken part in a few exhibitions and competitions accompanying the Amberif trade fair. One of her works - a locket made of two amber hemispheres supporting an ancient Roman coin - received a distinction there. The designer's inspiration was the long distance that ancients Romans used to cover to buy amber. The locket is currently in the collection of the Archaeology Museum in Gdańsk. However, before the Ambassadors headed to the North of Italy along the ancient amber route, they met Fabrizio Tridenti, an Italian jewellery designer in Vesto, on the Adriatic Sea (about 270 km from the capital of Italy). Fabrizio Tridenti received the Silver Prize in 2008 in the Amberif Design Award Competition for his sculpture project created from found elements: amber pieces were fixed into a rusty, metal box which - like amber - is hiding its own history and secret.

Crossing the Rubicon to Ravenna

After the meeting in Vesto the Ambassadors of Amber headed to the North Of Italy to Ravenna. On their way they visited Rimini - today associated with the Rubicon river - during the Roman Republic the Rubicon was a border river between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy. Tacitus (55-120 BC) described the Esti people (tribes) inhabiting the seashore of the Suebian Sea (Baltic), as being rich in amber. This information was confirmed in the letter from Theodoric the king of Ostrogoths to the Esti (Hesti) from the 4 century AD. Therefore the Ambassadors of Amber visited Ravenna where Theodoric's Mausoleum is located.

Next Stop - Adria

The Romans had taken over as the lovers of amber from the Greeks, thus on Lidia Popiel and Monika Richardson's route there had to be Adria which gave its name to the Adriatic Sea. In the Upper Adriatic Sea, in the region of the Pad and Adige river estuaries, during Greek and Etruscan times, two trade centres - Adria and Spina were founded, dealing not only with importing and treating amber, but also with the export of the precious load to the cities of Greece. Amber came from the Northern Sea shores, at the bottom of the Jutland Peninsula or the Baltic deposits. However, we can't talk about the amber route as a trade connection such as the silk road, salt route, until the times of Roman influence.

The Amber Venice

The contemporary amber routes led the Ambassadors of Amber from Adria to Venice. Bożena Kamińska, a jewellery designer from the Tri-city cooperates with a local glass creator, Giorgio Bruno. When she was designing the Venice collection, she visited his workshop where master Bruno was producing the decorations for three days, so that they suited the amber she had brought. Another artist was commissioned to make Venetian masks. This is how one of the most spectacular collections shown in the last few years at the Fashion and Amber Gala - "Karnawał Wenecki" (Venice Carnival) came to be. Lidia Popiel and Monika Richardson met Giorgio Bruno, visited his workshop and were presented with his techniques of Murano glass making.

Aquileia

The next day the Ambassadors of Amber reached Aquileia which in ancient times was one of the most dynamic craft centres of the Roman Empire. Set up in 181 BC as a trade settlement it became famous as a place of bronze and glass production. But it was amber, brought from the Baltic shores from the 1st century BC that gave the place its real fame and bloom. Roman merchants would set off to the North from there, up the famous "amber route".

The HRUŠICA pass in Slovenia

Another obligatory spot on the route was the pass, known by those in the mountains as „HRUŠICA AD PIRUM” - a Roman mail station, above 800 meters above the sea level. It was one of the most difficult places to get on the amber route. Currently there is an Archaeological Park HRUŠICA which the Ambassadors of Amber visited.

The Amber Traces in Hungary and Slovakia

The Polish women on the amber route visited also Szombathely and Sopron - Hungarian cities, full of ancient amber traces. In Szombathely they admired the preserved fragment of a Roman road and visited the museum where you can see antiques from excavations, including 18 gold Roman coins found in a roll, and other objects made of amber. The last stop on the foreign part of the amber route was Trencin on Vah. In this Slovak town, on the rock under the castle there is a Roman inscription about the stay of a legionary troop in the winter of 179/180. It is the closest point to Poland which was reached by the Roman legions. The inscription in the rock is currently at the "Tatra" hotel and is visible only from there.

The aim of the eight-day long studio visit of the Ambassadors of Amber to Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia was to collect the materials for the album under working title "The Polish Women on the Amber Route" - the project is being realised by the cities of Gdańsk and Kalisz and the Association of Cities and Sea Provinces, as a part of the Forum of Amber Route Cities. The text by Monika Richardson will be richly illustrated with the photographs by Lidia Popiel. The Ambassadors were both nominated by the President of the city of Gdańsk: Lidia Popiel in 2008, and Monika Richardson in 2010. The partner of the studio visit was the Jeep can brand.

The author is coordinator for the Amber Issues for the President of Gdańsk