In the city of Stockholm, more precisely in one of its 14 islands, Djugarden, there is something quite unique in the entire world. The Vasa museum houses the only war vessel of the 17th century in the world. This attraction is one of the most visited in Scandinavia. I loved being there. Let’s get a bit more acquainted with this boat’s history.
The Vasa is a war vessel which was built in the city of Stockholm, by order of the King of Sweden, Gustav Adolph III. And it was the king himself who established specific requirements for this vessel, the number of cannons for instance. It was his whim and also a dream turned into reality.
The work happened between 1626 and 1628 and it required the efforts of about 400 people. The Dutchman Henrik Hybertssone was the one held accountable for the construction and, after his death, this task was carried by his assistant, Henrik Jacobsson.
This vessel made of oak had three masts, was 69 meters long and weighed 1200 tonnes. It had 64 cannons made of bronze which fired cannonballs with 11 kg each. This was, without a doubt, the biggest vessel in the entire Swedish Navy. The Vasa was also built with a stunning ornamentation, which had 700 sculptures painted in vibrant colours and more than 200 motifs.
The goal behind the vessel’s construction was to reach Poland, a country that, at the time, was a Swedish enemy.
Maiden voyage and the sinking of the Vasa
On the 10th of August of 1628, the war vessel Vasa set sail from the port of Stockholm. The destination was the marine base of Alvsnabben, for the boarding of 300 soldiers.
Right at the port’s entrance, the vessel heeled to one side due to a strong gust of wind. Nevertheless, it went back to its original position. But a second blast took place, the ship could not handle it and heeled completely. At that moment, it only had travelled 1300 meters and the sheets had yet to be cast off.
The water poured in precisely where the cannons were placed, and so the vessel sank. It is estimated that it had a crew of 30 to 50 members.
It is known that the ship’s dimensions were changed during its construction. The fact that the king wanted to have more cannons than what was initially planned altered the vessel’s configuration and so it became unbalanced.
As a result of this accident, an inquest was carried out, but no one was found guilty. The constructors told that they had just followed the King’s orders…
The retrieval of the Vasa
Three days after the shipwreck, the first attempts to find the Vasa were held. But the limited technology of the time turned this into an unfeasible task.
It only became possible many years later, in the 20th century. The Swedish researcher Anders Franzén, after several years of research, found the Vasa. He knew that, due to the low levels of salt content in the Baltic Sea, the chances of finding it in good condition were actually favorable.
In 1956, Anders found it and, after a couple of years of preparation, he brought the Vasa back to the surface. On the April 24th of 1961, 333 years after the shipwreck, the boat returned to the surface. The hull was intact, but more than 13500 fragments were loose.
It had to be carefully preserved, after all it had spent many years underwater. In the beginning stages, the Vasa was sprinkled with water and, later, polyethylene glycol was used for preservation purposes. This polymer slowly penetrates into the wood, replacing the water inside of it.
After 17 years of laborious conservation procedures, the city’s most popular museum was inaugurated in 1990. This is the house of the Vasa.
The vessel’s maintenance is still an ongoing and permanent process.
Visiting the Vasa
Visiting the Vasa and its museum is something quite close to being back to the 17th century. It grants one with the chance to understand a little bit more about the history of Stockholm and Sweden, going beyond the vessel itself.
I would like to stress the following two details about the ship:
- Lion from the bow stem – The King Gustav Adolph III, who ordered the Vasa’s construction, was known as the Lion of the North. Therefore, for the bow stem, a lion was chosen as its motif. This piece has 4 meters and weighs 450 kg;
- Stern – This was an outstanding part of the vessel, whose access was only permitted to the principal officers. It was deeply damaged but it was carefully restored.
The real-size models of the Admiral’s cabin and the upper deck which comprised the cannons are deeply interesting and worth a visit as well.