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Germany's 'treasury chamber' museum in Dresden robbed

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Berlin (AFP)

A German state museum with one of the biggest collection of baroque treasures in Europe has been robbed, police said Monday, with media estimating losses of up to a billion euros.

The Green Vault at Dresden's Royal Palace, which is home to around 4,000 precious objects made of ivory, gold, silver and jewels, was broken into early Monday morning.

"This morning there was a break-in at the Green Vault," police in Saxony state confirmed on Twitter, adding that an estimate of the damages was "not yet possible".

Bild newspaper reported meanwhile that "antique jewellery worth around a billion euros has been stolen" in what it called "probably the biggest art theft since World War Two".

One of the oldest museums in Europe, the Green Vault holds treasures including a 63.8-centimetre figure of a Moor studded with emeralds and a 547.71-carat sapphire gifted by Tsar Peter I of Russia.

Bild said the criminals had broken into the well-protected palace by attacking a nearby power distributor and climbing through a window.

They then proceeded to target smaller items of jewellery, leaving larger, bulkier items behind, Bild claimed, without citing sources.

- 'Hard-earned' treasures -

Founded by August the Strong, Elector of Saxony in 1723, the Green Vault is one of 12 museums which make up the famous Dresden State Art Collections.

Its historic section, which contains around three quarters of the museum's treasures, was the one broken into on Monday.

With a strict limit on the amount of daily visitors, entrance to the historic vault can only be reserved in advance.

Exhibits are arranged into nine rooms, including an ivory room, a silver gilt room and the central "Hall of Treasures".

One of its most valuable pieces, the green diamond, is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it is a headline attraction in the temporary exhibition "Making Marvels: Science and Splendor at the Courts of Europe".

After the Royal Palace suffered severe damage in World War Two, the Green Vault remained closed for decades before it was restored and re-opened in 2006.

For Saxony's state premier, the heist went beyond the value of the artefacts stolen.

"The treasures that are found in the Green Vault and the Dresden Royal palace were hard-earned by the people of Saxony over many centuries," said Michael Kretschmer.

"One cannot understand the history of our country, our state without the Green Vault and Saxony's State Art Collections."

In 2010, the museum hosted a meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and then President of the United States Barack Obama, on the latter's first state visit to Germany.

Monday's theft is the second high-profile heist in Germany in recent years, after a 100kg, 24-carat giant gold coin was stolen from Berlin's Bode Museum in 2017.

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