Amber Museum in Puerto Plata
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Due to its warm beauty, amber has been valued as a valuable material for thousands of years.
In 1982, the Italian-born Costa family founded the Amber Museum at the Villa Bentz in Puerto Plata to make their private collection available to the public.
There are beautiful pieces on display. The most valuable are the nuggets of resin that contain insects or even lizards. Insects that would probably have also devoured the then not yet existent people 30 to 60 million years ago, as their descendants like to do with us today.
After renovation work in the sales areas, the museum is now accessible again on both floors. In the upper rooms, the visitor can admire many of the small treasures and on the ground floor he or she can buy decorative pieces of jewelry.
Most stories from here start with Christopher Columbus. So also the story of amber.
When Columbus landed on the island of Hispaniola (today's Dominican Republic and Haiti) in 1492, he was not badly surprised when the Taíno prince, to whom he gave his precious Baltic amber necklace, presented him his shoes, decorated with Caribbean amber.
In the Old World, amber has been traded representing a high value for millennia. Even the Phoenicians exchanged goods for amber with the Baltic tribes. There existed "amber roads" on which the valuable goods were transported from the Baltic Sea across Europe to the Far East.
In the past, amber powder was used internally for disorders of kidney, liver and gall bladder and any other ailments of the digestive system.
In the Middle Ages, amber chains were created to protect against witches and demons. And, of course, amber also plays a role in the esoteric - as a healing and protective stone, to take the fears and give joy of life. It should be worn directly on the skin for a long time without interruption. According to the beliefs of crystal healing it sends out "positive vibrations".
From the 19th century, people with rheumatism rubbed with amber oil. Babies were put amber necklaces in the cradle to facilitate teething.
Here in the Dominican Republic, amber played no major role. It was found in rivers or in the ground. Because of its rough and powerful odor, it was ground into powder and used as an anti-mosquito agent.
Only with the Aldo family and Didi Costa, who came from Bologna to Puerto Plata, did the interest in Domincan amber start to awaken. The lady of the house, Didi Costa, actually wanted to study the local arts and crafts in her free time, but quickly became enthusiastic about the amber and started to trade with it.
A group of German geologists worked with her, creating connections to European universities, and American researchers became interested in the insects in amber and examined them more closely.
But the most beautiful pieces kept Mrs. Costa for herself to collect them.
In 1977, the family acquired the Villa Bentz on Calle Duarte in the center of Puerto Plata and set up the now world famous Amber Museum to showcase the most beautiful pieces in the small exhibition space to the public.
Amber is not a real stone, but fossilized resin, which in the Dominican Republic it is 30 to 60 million old. Baltic amber can even be 260 million years old. 99 percent of world production today comes from the Baltic States.
The very rare and very expensive blue amber can only be found here.
There is a lot of counterfeit plastic amber in circulation. The genuine amber can be recognized by the fact that it sinks in fresh water (for example tap water), but floats in a glass with two teaspoons of salt. Plastic amber also floats on salt water, whereas fake amber of stone or glass sink in it. Another way is to hold it under UV light, where real amber fluoresces white-blue, plastic does not.
The Amber Museum
You will find the Amber Museum (Museo de ámbar) in the center of Puerto Plata, about 100 meters from Parque de la Independencia (Central Park) on Calle Duarte 61.
Tickets are available for 50 pesos at the booth in front of the entrance.
Opening hours from Monday to Saturday are from 9am to 6pm.
On the ground floor there are various stalls where you can buy jewelery and amber in different sizes and price ranges.
Article in LA PLAYA, issue 3 from 30 September 2009
Information on prices and opening times are from then.