The Vasa Museum in Stockholm houses the Vasa, a sunken 17th century ship. Finished in 1628, the Vasa was top-heavy and too narrow for her depth/weight (the king dictated the measurements and no one was about to correct him). The Vasa sank in Stockholm’s harbor, not even a mile into her maiden voyage! Giant oops. 333 years later, in 1961, she was salvaged almost fully intact.
How the Vasa looked when she set sail
King Gustav Adolf built the Vasa for a major role in the Swedish navy. Sweden had been at war with Poland since 1625 and embroiled in the Thirty Years’ War. To advance its interests, Sweden needed a strong navy. Sweden had recently lost twelve boats. They desperately needed some new, fancy ships. Unfortunately, the Vasa’s designer died without leaving written records, the king changed some of the specifications and the completion date was looming. It was a rush job.
Recreation of the interior
How the ship’s interior was organized
Fanfare surrounded the Vasa’s launch. Hundreds watched from the shore. Crew members’ wives and children were on board for the first leg of the journey to an island with barracks just outside the bay (where soldiers would board the ship). Small boats towed the Vasa from the dock. After firing a farewell salute, she tilted took in water and promptly sank. Small boats in the harbor picked up most of the 150 people on board, but about a third went down with the ship.
This diving bell was used to salvage some of the cannons in the 1600’s!
The captain was thrown in jail and an inquest to determine the cause of the sinking was immediately undertaken. It wasn’t long before it became clear that the king himself did much of the decision-making. King Gustav Adolf determined the measurements, added a second gun deck and larger cannons. The inquest instantly dropped and crucial paperwork vanished. Hmmmm.
Today, the Vasa is the centerpiece of a colossal museum. The real star of the museum is the Vasa itself. The enormous strategically lighted ship is the first thing you see when you enter the colossal, dimly lit main area. Prepare to be awed. It is enormous and it’s intricate timber carvings are impressive. You can view it from every angle and it is extraordinary. Sorry, the pictures don’t do it justice.
Normally, sitting around looking at boats is not my idea of a rockin’ good time and he gets seasick. It doesn’t matter if boats or history is your thing; it is one of the coolest time capsules ever. Thousands of artifacts and the remains of at least fifteen passengers were recovered. Clothing, weapons, cannons, tools, coins, games, dishes, cutlery, food, drink and sails are all on display. The museum does an excellent job of displaying these items and giving them context. Without lecturing or boring visitors, the museum educates them about naval warfare, shipbuilding techniques and everyday life in 17th century Sweden.
95% of the original ship survives. There are several reasons why the Vasa is in such good condition:
- The ship was brand new when it sunk.
- The Baltic Sea has a Saline level of 0.4%, which prevented many of the organisms that destroy wood from living in the water.
- It sunk in an area where neither ice nor currents damaged it.
- The water temperature remains relatively consistent (and cold) ranging from 1-5 degrees Celsius (33.8 – 41 degrees Fahrenheit).
- The ship was built from oak with high iron content.
- To prevent cracking when exposed to air and sunlight, the wood was wrapped in plastic sheets as soon as it was lifted from the water.
- It was treated with polyethylene glycol.
We weren’t the only ones interested in the Vasa. It is Scandinavia’s most visited museum. While we were there, we saw the King and Queen of Sweden, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. They actually got to go on the ship. Lucky ducks.