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The Warship Vasa: A Glorious Disaster

In the 17th Century, during Sweden’s stormaktstiden, or Age of Greatness, King Gustavus Adolphus commissioned the building of five warships, which were intended to be the heaviest and most spectacular of their time.

Vasa Djurgarden

The Vasa was the first and grandest of these so-called “royal ships.” It was the biggest, most powerful and most richly decorated vessel ever built for the Swedish Navy. With 2 gun decks and 64 bronze guns, the gargantuan warship was meant to strike fear in the heart of its enemies, and pride in the soul of the Swedish people.

No expense was spared on the building of the “King’s Ship.” Using 40 acres worth of mostly northern oaks, the Vasa’s main mast soared to 57 metres. Intricately carved gods, demons, kings, knights, animals and mermaids adorned the vessel, symbolizing power, courage or cruelty.

Costing 200,000 Rex dollars (the King’s Currency), the construction of the Vasa accounted for just over 5% of Sweden’s entire GDP.

On August 10, 1628, in front of a huge crowd of well-wishers and spectators, the Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage.

And promptly sank, taking approximately 30 of her 150 crew, down with her.

An inquest into the disaster could find no guilty party, and the sinking was eventually explained as an “Act of God.”

The Vasamuseet

The Vasamuseet

Strangely, the polluted, brackish, ice-cold water of Stockholm’s harbour provided the perfect conditions for preserving a shipwreck, and in 1961, after 333 years under the water, the wreck was salvaged, reconstructed and given a new home in the city’s beautiful Djurgarden.

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Now, I am not going to go into all the details of the salvage and reconstruction, but if you’re interested, you can read about it here and here. It certainly wasn’t an easy task.

The Vasamuseet is now Stockholm’s most popular tourist attraction, with over 1 million people visiting each and every year. It’s not hard to see why. It’s the only place in the world where you can see an authentic 17th Century warship in its entirety.

The Museum is 7 stories tall, and you can wander around each of the levels to get a different perspective on the ship. Eleven permanent exhibitions give a window into the Vasa’s history, life on board, and her sculptures and artwork. The Face to Face exhibition even lets you look into the eyes of some of the ship’s casualties, through 6 eerie facial reconstructions.

A Facial Reconstruction: Ivar was found on the orlop deck. He was 40-60 years old.

A Facial Reconstruction: Ivar was found on the orlop deck. He was 40-60 years old.

We spent approximately 3 hours in the museum, exploring each floor and level of the ship. Well, actually, I’d had enough after 2 hours and ended up sitting and waiting for Agri, who couldn’t seem to get enough of the warship… 😉


Visiting the Museum

The Vasamuseet is open 7 days a week, from September 1st to May 31, from 10:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening, except Wednesdays, when it is open until 8:00.

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From June 1st to August 31st, the museum is open everyday from 8:30AM until 6:00PM.

Admission for adults is 130 SEK (approximately US$20). Children and adolescents up to 18 get free entry, and students with valid student ID pay 100 SEK.

More details can be found on the Vasamuseet website.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I visited Stockholm several years ago and enjoy seeing the Vasa. An incredible work of art as well as a work of war.

    March 18, 2014
    • Hi Marie. 🙂 It was really amazing to see. The first sight when you walk into the museum is pretty overwhelming!!

      March 19, 2014
  2. Ah this is one of my favorite posts of yours, I think! How cool!! I cannot BELIEVE how well-preserved the ship is. Reminds me of the even creepier “bog people” from Northern Europe. glad you shared a little bit of the history, too.

    March 19, 2014
    • “Bog people?” Hmm, I am going to have to look into THAT. Have never heard of them! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Honestly I was really trying to get my husband to write it, because I am terrible at understanding and writing about history, and it’s an obsession of his. No luck though. 😉

      March 19, 2014

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