Ramune Kupsyte tells her story of amber.
When I opened the Baltic Amber Shop in the old town of Bassano del Grappa, near the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), the feature of Bassano that local people pride most, instinctively I realised that I had made my own “Amber Road” from Lithuania to Italy with the same product which had created a strong trade and cultural relationship between the Roman Empire and northern lands.
In Lithuania, my birth home, we call it ’gintaras’. Legend has it that Jurate, queen of the seas married a fisherman Kastytis against her father’s wishes, so he turned her into sea foam and smashed her castle of amber into the amber bearing rocks that are found washed up along the Baltic coast.
The Amber Road is one of the most important commercial roads. It has existed for more than 2000 years and connects Italy and Baltic sea, where you can find the best amber in the world. The Baltic Amber first reached Aquileia then Venice, and finally Rome. This is how Romans discovered amber – Baltic gold.
This gemstone was used in Lithuania and other Baltic sea lands already in the Neolithic age. Due to nice orange color, specific smell and electrostatic characteristics it became a part of pagan rites, funerals and birth celebrations. Baltic amber was commonly used as medicine against various stomach, liver or heart illnesses and as amulet against “bad eye”.
Baltic amber beads were found around the Mediterranean in the second century BC. These finds, in Tutankhamen’s tomb, Mycenae and Delphi in Greece, Crete (Evans), and Troy (Schliemann), seem to support the idea that Minoans traded in Baltic amber. During the Roman Empire the emperor Nero was fascinated by the stained hairs of his wife. Her hairs where colored like amber. This is reputedly how the interest for amber increased more and more among the people. Baltic amber became so popular that it had a higher value than a slave.
The main Amber road ran to modern day Italy, but it was not the only one. Other amber roads connected Northern Lands with Black Sea, Greece and western European countries. Baltic people have the amber culture in their blood – it is our heritage.
In Bassano, I found that Italians enjoy discovering elegant items and they appreciate historical values. Talking every day with people, explaining to them what is Baltic amber, where it comes from, discussing about Lithuania and my culture, I realised that it is like turning back to the past.
I imagined being a merchant from the Roman Empire with a heavily laden horse, traipsing step by step, trying to reach unknown barbaric lands, hoping to trade for this magical gemstone and discovering a new world.