A Brief History of the Swedish Warship Vasa
On the 10th of August 1628, the Swedish warship Vasa set off on her maiden voyage. Never leaving Stockholm Harbor, she sank after sailing no more than 1300 meters (less than a mile). Although her guns were salvaged in the 1660s, the wreck sat underwater for 333 years before breaking the surface once again in 1961. Today, the Vasa Museum offers a unique glimpse into life in the early 1600s in Sweden, when Tall Ships dominated shipbuilding in the region.
One of the most amazing things about the Vasa is that it’s about 98% original! It’s the only ship of its kind to have been restored to such an original state. Putting the Swedish warship Vasa back together must have been like assembling a massive jigsaw puzzle, but with no photo on the box to go by. In addition to the pieces of hull and parts of the ship itself, there were over 40,000 other objects found with the Vasa! Even for those of us who are normally not big on visiting museums, the Vasa is truly impressive. It took many years to restore the Vasa to her former glory. Even the process of drying and preserving the wood is fascinating: 17 years of spraying and chemical-treating to prevent the waterlogged wood from shrinking and cracking! Researchers even studied paint chips to see how the many wooden sculptures that adorned the Vasa might have looked.
Take Your Time Exploring the Museum
When you enter on the 4th Floor of the exhibition, check to see the time of the next orientation movie in your language. It’s worth seeing the film early in your visit to get a little history. Additionally, there’s a cool app you can download on the museum’s free WiFi. With the app you can decide which areas to hear more thorough detail about. There are so many sections and sub-sections, it’s hard to choose. Audio segments cover everything from stories of what life was like at the time of the ship’s building to the nitty gritty of scientific research and how the ship was raised.
This level focuses on history. What was life like in early 17th century Sweden? What led to the building of the Vasa? Who was blamed when she sank? Another exhibit places the Vasa and her sculptures into historical context. There is also a great display on how divers spearheaded the salvaging of the ship, and how the massive, thick cables were placed beneath the ship to finally raise her to the surface using air bags.
There are smaller exhibitions within the museum on various topics. On the lowest level, “The Shipyard” shows how ships were built around the time of the Vasa. “Face to Face” shows the collection of skeletons and personal items found within the Vasa. It’s amazing what they have been able to piece together from DNA and from studying the bones themselves. In this area there are also reconstructions of what the “lost” may have looked like in life. Hair, eyes, expressions: the heads are so lifelike, it’s scary! The lower level also has detailed information on the group working to preserve the Vasa: what they faced when the ship was first raised, the process that led to the museum today, and plans for the future.
Another highlight for us was using interactive computer terminals to create a ship like the Vasa and see how it fared as winds picked up and the ship set sail. You could choose the general shape of the vessel, how many guns and supplies, which sails to set, etc.
If there’s one museum you visit when in Stockholm, make it the Vasa. It’s completely impossible to capture the grand scale or the minute details of this remarkable ship in photos.