Stockholm’s Vasa Museum

The exterior of the museum has been built to look like a ship - with masts and all!

One of the highlights of our time in Stockholm was a visit to the Vasa Museum, which sits on the island of Djurgården.  We took the historic tram from the center of town over to the museum, but it would be a pleasant walk along the waterfront.  The Vasa Museum is  unique in the world, in that it was purposely built to display the Vasa, a 17th century ship that sank and was recovered in an almost-fully intact state. That might not sound like a big deal, but think about this: the ship is built out of wood, and lay underwater for nearly 300 years.  And it didn’t disintegrate into a million pieces!  Apparently this is because the waters of the Baltic are really briney, which means that the Teredo Worm, a wood-boring mollusc, doesn’t thrive.  So the wooden ship was in remarkably good shape when it was rediscovered.

The port side of the ship. The whole space is kept quite cool and dark to protect the wood.

The ship sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. It didn’t get very far – only about 1 mile (2km) before it keeled over and water rushed through the open holes for the cannon.  While the expensive brass cannon were salvaged fairly quickly after the boat sank, the rest of the wreck lay in anonymity for three centuries. It wasn’t re-discovered until the 1950s, and in 1961 there was a complex operation to raise the wreck and bring it to the surface.  For 20 years it was regularly sprayed with polyethylene glycol, to protect the wood, but even now there is degradation, and unless further scientific advancements are made, the ship will eventually disintegrate.

The square box you can see in the center of the photograph is the head - or toilet. There were only two for the crew - directly opposite one another. No privacy here! And be careful if there's a big wave!

There are a couple of theories as to why the ship sank, but most people it was because it was built top-heavy, and didn’t have enough ballast in the bottom to act as a counterweight. When a slight breeze came up, it caught the sails and tipped the ship right over. It’s unknown exactly how many people were onboard at the time, or how many died when the ship sank, but they did recover 15 skeletons from the wreck. These bones have been analyzed and they are trying to identify the remains, but for now they’ve been given alphabetic identifiers and are on display at the museum. (Personally, I thought that was a little disturbing!)

95% of the wood on the Vasa is original. Where they had to provide replacement, it's a different color and texture.

One of the coolest things about the Vasa was the detail that you can still see – especially in the intricate carvings along the back of the boat (sorry – I don’t know the technical terms!).  There were dozens, if not hundreds, of figures and animals carved into the boat, and they were all brightly painted. Of course the paint didn’t survive the time underwater, but the carvings remain.  The museum has created several replicas, and has painted them in the original colors, so you can imagine how bright and cheerful the boat looked when it set sail!

From Roman Gods to historical figures to Christian angels ... this boat covered every contingency! It was supposed to inspire fear and awe in enemies.


Posted on 20/09/2011, in travel, Travel to Europe and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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