Vasa Museum

Vasa Museum
Vasa Museum

The Vasa Museum Stockholm, or the Vasamuseet, is a truly unique museum in Sweden, and indeed the world. Its claim to be the most visited Swedish museum is likely true, with over 25 million people having visited it by 2007. And its claim to fame? The Vasa Museum's distinctively shaped structure on the isle of Djurgården houses one of Europe's great archeological treasures, an almost intact 17th century warship, raised from the sea after three centuries underwater.

The great gunship Vasa, carrying 64 cannons on two decks, was built to be the mightiest in Europe, during the expansion of King Gustavus Adolphus's empire around the Baltic. The Vasa was designed by a Dutch ship builder, Henrik Hybertsson, using the king's own dictated measurements. But on its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628 to wage war on Poland, the ship sank in 100 feet of water in Stockholm's harbor, after the wind blew it onto its side, allowing water to enter the gun ports. The ship did not see the light of day until 1956, when it was retrieved from the sea after a long and exhaustive search of the harbor. The discovery and retrieval of the Vasa are significant because no architectural records or drawings of ships exist in Sweden or in all Scandinavia prior to 1670. Now the Vasa Ship Museum offers a look at the stunning workmanship and design of early Swedish ships.

At the Vasa Museum Stockholm one can view the ship as well as most of the items on board when it sank. The main hall of the Vasa Ship Museum houses the restored galleon, which soars to a height of 190 ft and has a total surface area of 150,000 sq ft. The ship has been fitted for winter sailing, with the lower sections of three masts. Visitors to the Vasa Museum can gawk at the imposing structure from six levels, from the keel to the top of the stern castle. 95% of the ship is built of its original oak, and it is said that 40 acres of timber were felled to construct it. The Vasa is so well-preserved because the Baltic Sea is brackish, with nearly no oxygen, salinity, nor wood-destroying organisms.

The Vasa Museum Stockholm keeps the ship in its current blackened state, although originally it was painted in red, gold, and blue in the Baroque fashion. This is one Swedish museum where one won't see the austere Scandinavian design ethic; some of the ornate carvings on display are painted to show the gold leaf and intense hues adorning the gods, kings, demons, cherubs, and different characters, which were meant to scare the enemy. This is also one rare museum in Sweden where one can see a precise snapshot of a historic moment, as many of the items found on deck at the time of its sinking are on display. Clothes, preserved food and beverages, silver and gold coins, game boards, and even gruesome medical equipment are exhibited.

The Vasa Museum has four other floating museum ships on display – an icebreaker launched in 1915, a 1903 light vessel, a 1944 rescue boat, and a 1966 torpedo boat. Like most Swedish museums, it also offers a lovely restaurant (Swedish köttbullar, or meatballs, are recommended) and a well-stocked gift shop. You can find the Vasa Ship Museum at Galärvarsvägen 14, by taking the Djurgardsfarjan ferry from the south end of the Gamla Stan or the Old Town, to Djurgården Island.

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