In the footsteps of the royal warship Vasa

The Vasa Museum in Stockholm is one of the more exciting and rewarding attractions in Stockholm. At the Vasa Museum you will find the restored historic warship Vasa, which is the world’s only remaining ship from the 17th Century and astonishingly is on display with 95% of its surviving original parts.

entire warship vasa

Warship Vasa | Vasa Museum,Stockholm

Short history of the warship

In 1625 King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden commissioned the construction of the warship Vasa. It was during the time of the Thirty Years’ War and Sweden was at war with Poland. To enforce swedish interests in the Baltic States over Poland, the king ordered the construction of the warship.

Vasa Warship

Vasa Warship | Stockholm

With the build of this 69 meter long ship, Sweden would also enhance its reputation as a new great power at see. His arms should comply with the 64-gun firepower of that of the entire Polish Navy and the crew should consist of about 450 people, including 300 soldiers.

The first order of the warship Vasa was the blockage of the Vistula delta near Gdansk. It would however not come to this, because the maiden voyage of the ship on 10 August 1628 ended in disaster.

First, the warship Vasa was steered from the shipyard to the shore in front of the royal castle Tre Kronor. Systematic tests were conducted to test the stability of the ship. One of the tests was that 30 men from the crew ran from one side of the ship to the oterh. The ship rocked so much that it was decided to abort the experiment.

bow of vessel | Vasa Museum, Stockholm

bow of vessel | Vasa Museum, Stockholm

Yet despite this problem, the warship Vasa lifted on 10 August 1628 the anchor. Four sails were set, and salutes fired. An old source indicates that the warship had only been out a few meters but was already on a threatening angle with just low winds. The first strong gust of wind caused the vessel to capsize around 1,300 meters after the start. It is estimated that thirty to fifty people died. The remains of 16 individuals were found during the salvage. Overall, the trip of the warship Vasa only took about 20 minutes.

After exactly 333 years in 1962 the sunken ship was finally salvaged after it had been discovered in 1956. Today the restored warship Vasa can be viewed in the Vasa-Museum in Stockholm.

So why did Vasa capsize?

Nowadays, you can calculate exactly how a ship has to be built to be seaworthy. In the 17th century however they used dimension tables that had proved worthy in the past. The king wanted an unusually high number of canons on board. Therefore, the dimensions chosen for the warship were no longer suitable and the engineers were overwhelmed with their task. The ship was built with a high structure and two enclosed gun decks. The lower part of the ship was filled with heavy stones, which served as ballast to keep the ship stable in water. However, the Vasa was top-heavy and the 120 tons of ballast were inadequate.

Details of the Vasa | Vasa Museum in Stockholm

Details of the Vasa in Stockholm

The Vasa Museum

In 1990 the Vasa was transferred to a stable Museum in the Stockholm district of Djurgården.

The entire ship is at the heart of the museum hall and can be viewed from all sides and seven levels offer views from different heights too. This enables visitors to get to a fascinatingly detailed picture of the ship. As 95% of the ship was salvaged and used to reconstruct the Vasa, the missing 5% of damaged or missing parts have been replaced with pine wood to emphasize the difference.

1:10 Model of Vasa in colour

1:10 Model of Vasa in colour

Apart from the wreck there were also about 14,000 loose timber objects rescued and after restoration placed back on its original place on the ship. The Vasa was, like most of the warships of that time, furnished very elaborativly. Accordingly, the 700 figures aboard, which were in the style of Renaissance and Baroque were elaborately painted and partially gilded. The various themes such as the Old Testament, Greek legends, Roman emperor and much more represented the power of the Swedish crown. In the museum you will find a model in scale 1: 10 shows the reconstruction of the entire painting process including the Vasa.

All findings are direct evidence of the 17th Century. These include the skeletal remains of crew members and their personal belongings. It was partially possible to the identify the crew members and their life story and you can find out about this in the Vasa museum.

The different floor levels in the museum not only help in getting a good view of the warship from all angles, but additionally displays a variety of exhibits and models which describe the features of the Vasa and gives comprehensive explanations about the life on the Vasa as well as explains how the warship fits into a contemporary context. The exhibition gives an insight of Sweden’s 17th Century history and an informed impression of the marine life of the time. It also offers an interesting insight into the work of scientists who are both busy figuring out new facts about the ship and how maintain its uniqueness against an impending expiration.

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