Vasa warship at Vasamuseet, the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden
Vasa warship at Vasamuseet, the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden

First, the story of the Vasa, Sweden’s greatest warship:

During the early 1600’s, Sweden rose almost overnight into one of Europe’s major political powers. It controlled most of the Scandinavian Peninsula, as well as all the way around and back into mainland Europe, including most of Finland and the Baltic states. Though it might be quite difficult to imagine now, as Sweden is one of the most peaceful, democratic, and socially-liberal nations in the world, but centuries ago it was one of the most militarized nations. 

The king of Sweden at the time, Gustav II Adolf (known more often now by has latinized name, Gustavus Adolphus), was considered one of the most successful military leaders, but his navy was in poor shape due to an ongoing war with Poland. Sweden had numerous lighter, cheaper ships, but King Gustavus Adolphus eyed much greater ships; larger ships and bigger guns would send a message of might and power to all their enemies, and so he commissioned five of these massive warships, called regalskepp: Äpplet, Kronan, Scepter, Göta Ark, and the Vasa. 

Out of those five ships, the Vasa was to be the mightiest, and it was also the first one built. On August 10, 1628, the Vasa was deemed complete and set sail on her maiden voyage. As the ship came around a bend, it suddenly tipped over to its left (port) side; water came rushing in, and the ship sank after traveling only about 1,300 meters, and only 120 meters from shore. 

Over time, the ship was forgotten, and then its location became lost until the 1950’s. After being sunken for about 333 years, the Vasa was lifted up in 1961. The ship was in relatively good condition, the dirty water coincidentally preserving Vasa’s wood by killing harmful microorganisms. In 1990, Sweden built the Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum) on the Stockholm island of Djurgården to house the ship and to display to the public this unique piece of Swedish history.

At first, it was hard for me to imagine how informative a museum revolving around one ship could be; though it is one of the best-preserved examples of warships from that era and was the largest ship that Sweden ever built, to me it was still just one large boat. However, I was quite mistaken, as I happily came to find out a short time into my visit.

When you walk into the Vasamuseet, the ambiance is cool and dark – not a bad way to get into the mindset to learn about a previously-sunken ship. The massive Vasa stands in the center of a room that was built to follow its contours. You start off on the ground floor, but the ship sits in a pit, so you actually begin somewhere about halfway up its hull. The natural way to continue is to walk up to the floors above (it goes to level 7). Each floor has various collections and revolves around different aspects of the Vasa: one floor was dedicated to explaining the entire rehabilitation process once the ship was resurrected, another floor was dedicated to showing how life would have been on board, and another actually portrayed how people killed each other back in the day (how they would board ships and hack the enemy crew to death).

Painting near Vasa warship at Vasamuseet, the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden
Painting near Vasa warship at Vasamuseet, the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden

All around the ship, no matter what level of the ship you are at, you can see the precise craftsmanship of Vasa’s construction in its myriad intricate carvings; King Gustavus Adolphus wanted to show off to the rest of the world. Many of the carvers of these various patterns came from all around, even Germany and the Netherlands, whittling away in a baroque style. Also, on some of the higher levels of the museum, many paintings and other works of art of some notable people from that era are displayed.

Hours:
September 1 – May 31: Each day: 10:00-17:00; Wednesdays: 10:00-20:00; December 31: 10:00-15:00
June 1 – August 31: Each day: 8:30-18:00
Closed: 1 January and 23-25 December

Admission: 
Adults, 130 SEK but Wednesdays (Sep 1 -May 31) from  17:00 – 20:00 only 100 SEK; Students 100 SEK; Children 18 and under are always free.

Vasa Museum | Galärvarvsvägen 14, Djurgården, Stockholm | www.vasamuseet.se | +46-8-519 548 00 | vasamuseet@maritima.se

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