One of the most interesting museums in Scandinavia is the Vasa Museum, unique in that it features a nearly intact and remarkably preserved 17th century Swedish sailing ship named "Vasa". The entire museum is custom- built to display the ship from multiple levels, including it's masts. The Vasa Museum is the most visited museum in Sweden, with over one million guests a year.
A Brief History of the Vasa
The story behind the Vasa is quite interesting. In 1618, King Gustav II Adolf began to concentrate shipbuilding in Stockholm, part of his plan to add two new ships to the navy every year. Although he lacked engineering skills, the King was intimately involved with the design of the Vasa as he wanted to create a most impressive war machine, but his involvement would turn out to be disastrous in terms of financial costs and public relations.
(Model of the Vasa as she looked when set set sail for the first time in 1628)
The Vasa was 69 meters long and outfitted with 64-guns when she left port on the 10th of August 1628 She was the most powerful warship in the Baltic but quickly foundered in Stockholm's harbor minutes after setting sail for the first time. The harbor was packed with people wanting to watch the sight of this great ship leaving port. All witnessed instead its quick sinking after sailing just over a kilometer, as a breeze tilted it and water entered its open gunports. A scene of calamity emerged as people threw themselves from the sinking ship. 30 people died, mostly those stuck below the Vasa's deck.
The problem with the ship was its design. The upper parts were too tall and heavy for the relatively small amount of hull below the water. This would have made the ship fast, but put the center of gravity too far above the waterline. As such, even a light breeze could heel the ship as became clear the day it sank. Also, if the lower gun ports had been closed water would not have poured in and the Vasa might have had time to return to harbor and work on weight redistribution.
Fortunately for us the Vasa sank in cold brackish water, to a depth of 32 meters, which did a good job of preserving the ship; had she sunk in salt water the ship would have almost certainly been destroyed over the centuries.
The Vasa was salvaged in 1961, 333 years after it sank. For almost a half century after being salvaged the ship was painstakingly restored; notably the wood was treated with polyethylene glycol to replace its moisture with wax, thereby preventing rot. More than 95 percent of the ship is original and the Vasa is decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures.
The following photo was used as last weekend's One Clue Mystery photo. Congratulations to Professor Abe, George G and Lisa B, who recognized that we were visiting the Vasa.
Visiting the Vasa Museum
The main hall contains the ship itself, which can be viewed at multiple levels as you can ascertain from the photos in this blog. As you might expect, you can not actually board the ship, but you get quite close to it and can see its fine details.
The artwork on the stern of the Vasa is especially detailed and interesting to see.
There are ten different exhibitions around the ship that share some of the story, including its construction and life on board the ship. Other exhibits and models demonstrate the sinking, and recovery of the Vasa. A movie theater plays an interesting film in multiple languages on the recovery of the Vasa, which I found very informative.
(Original pulleys from the Vasa salvage)
While the ship might be dark and bleak-looking today, when it was launched it was brightly colored. The following exhibit gives some details about this.
The museum also features four other ships moored in the harbor outside (which I never visited): the ice breaker Sankt Erik (launched 1915), the Finngrundet (1903), the torpedo boat Spica (1966) and the rescue boat Bernhard Ingelsson .
I know of no other museum quite like this one. There are a number with old ship ruins around the world, but none as massive and will preserved as the Vasa. Definitely worth seeing when visiting Stockholm.