Vasa Museum

Now for the most visited museum in Stockholm, the Vasa Museum. This place showcases an old warship which sunk on its maiden voyage, kind of like the Titanic. It didn’t get anywhere near as far though. Admission fee is 95 SEK, 50 SEK if you’re a student. They’re quite strict about this and you need some form of proof that you’re a student. One of our friends dug around in her bag for about 5 minutes before digging out a scrap of paper to prove that she’s a student. So our ISIC card has just paid for itself.

Everyone loves a good story, so here’s the story of the Vasa, although it may not be such a good story when I tell it. There’s an excellent article on Wikipedia, but it’s quite long. Most of the info below is from there.

The Vasa was built for King Gustavus Adolphus from 1626 to 1628. At that time, Sweden was developing into a country of great importance, under the able leadership of several monarchs and an efficient military machine. A powerful navy was very important. After all, if you want to make the Baltic Sea a Swedish lake, you need to be able to get across it and he with the biggest guns wins.

The Vasa was meant to be the formidable and impressive. This can be seen in the large number of guns they stuffed on the 2 gun decks, and the incredibly ornate carvings all over the ship. The king provided the measurements for the ship, although I have no idea what the king knew about shipbuilding.

Before the ship was fully completed, the captain conducted a test on its stability. With Admiral Klas Fleming watching, he got 30 men to run from one side of the ship to the other, kind of like that scene in Pirates of the Carribean where Jack Sparrow did it to flip his ship. The admiral stopped the test after just 3 trips as he was afraid the ship would capsize. However, even though this weakness of the ship was known, they did not prevent the ship from being launched. The king was away at the time, constantly sending letters to hurry the construction. The pressure from the king may have caused them to be afraid of telling him.

Thus on 10th of August 1628, the Vasa began her maiden voyage. A gust of wind caught it and it swayed to one side, but righted itself. As it went further out, it encountered a stronger breeze and tilted right over. Water rushed through the open gunports and it sank with the sails and flags flying.

The Vasa had insufficient ballast, so when it swayed to one side, it was unable to right itself and capsized instead. The hull was too narrow to put in more ballast, and the increased firepower meant two gun decks, heavier guns and thus more weight on top. Also, too much ballast would have brought the gunports of the lower gun deck too close to the water. What was needed was a wider hull.

After the Vasa sank, there was an inquiry. No one was found guilty. Salvage attempts were made but they were unsuccessful. However, in 1664, 50 of the valuable guns were recovered using a simple diving bell.

It was only in the early 1950s that Anders Franzén started searching for the Vasa again, with a simple coring probe. He reasoned that the waters of the Baltic did not contain the shipworm Teredo navalis, which destroys submerged wood rapidly in other seas. He looked unsuccessfully for a few years (lots of patience) and finally decided to investigate an unknown mound. Dropping his probe down, it came up with a piece of black oak. He had found the Vasa.

To raise the Vasa, divers dug tunnels underneath and put cables through them. These were attached to lifting pontoons. In 1961, 333 years (nice number) after the sinking, the Vasa broke the surface of the water. Archaeologists explored all the cool stuff on the ship. They had to work in a constant drizzle as the ship could not be allowed to dry out or it would crack.

The Vasa was then preserved by spraying it for 17 years with polyethylene glycol, then left to dry for 9 years. The Vasa musem was opened to the public in 1990 and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Stockholm.

Here’s the exterior view of the building.

Vasa Museum

Vasa Museum

Now for the main attraction, the ship itself.


The museum is kept at a humidity of 55% and a temperature of 18-20 degrees Celsius. It’s also very dark inside. Image stabilisation and ISO 1600 are great features.

At the side of the ship is a scale model of the Vasa, in full colour and with all the sails set. The picture below shows the sculptures on the stern.


Moving along, this display shows a cross section of the Vasa. The explanatory text says that the Vasa was carrying insufficient ballast and should have been built wider and deeper to carry more ballast.


The image might be a bit tiny, but I can tell you what the text says because it’s written in English. The Swedish version is the top paragraph.

Now for the real thing. A closer look at the sculptures you saw just now on the scale model. No colour here.


Personally I think that a lot of effort has gone into sculptures, considering that it’s a warship. A cannonball would have destroyed quite a lot of it.

Here’s what a gunport looks like when it’s open. Look at the menacing face of a lion. Must have been intimidating.


Imagine two rows of these staring out at you, with cannons below them. Must have been a fearsome sight. Hopefully the picture below will give you some idea.


It’s not just the stern which has sculptures. There are more on the bow. These sculptures depict Roman Emperors. These people really admired the Romans. There were other sculptures of Roman soldiers on the ship.


To give you an idea of what the sculptures might have looked like, there’s a section at the side in colour. Archaelogists figured out the colours by analysing the paint pigments still left.


The very very detailed stern. What a lot of work must have gone into this ship.


Side view of the ship. Look at the size of the people in the background on the right to get an idea of how large it is. The galleries along the side are for musketeers to fire from.


Making use of technology! This is a computer program which explains the principles of buoyancy and stability. There is also a game which allows you to design your own ship and then test it out. The ‘King’ will then give his assessment. You can select the hull shape, choose the amount of ballast, number of guns and the amount of provisions.

After that you choose the sails you want to set and test the ship.


The + button will make the wind blow harder and the ship will start to tilt more and more to one side. When the wind is too strong it will capsize, then the King will give his assessment.


After a few tries in which the King was most dissatisfied, I finally managed to find a good balance and get this screen. Yay!

Another view of the ship from a higher floor. The section of mast attached is only the main section. There are actually two more sections, so the ship was a lot higher.


Other exhibits in the museum explain what life was like onboard a ship in the 17th century. Here’s the view along a cannon and through a gunport.


This wasn’t taken on the actual ship itself, it was on a mockup of the gundeck.

This cutout model shows what the interior of the vessel looked like and what people were doing in it.


The cooking fire was the only open fire allowed on the ship. After all, it’s packed full of gunpowder and surrounded by wood. Not a good idea to let people set fires everywhere.

This gold ring was the only gold object found on the ship.


Some of the sailors’ possessions. Individually carved spoons bearing their owner’s marks


This cool model of lots of warships on the globe explains a naval battle. I think it was the Battle of Oliva. The description fits what I remember reading.

Here’s how you load a cannon, and the thing below looks like a large barrel brush.


This display shows what a shipyard looked like.


After touring the museum, you can visit the souvenir shop and check out books about the history of the Vasa. There are also lots of souvenirs like shirts, pens, coasters and lots of other random stuff.

If you still can’t get enough of the Vasa, there’s even this 1:75 scale model you can buy for 12000 SEK.


To learn more about the Vasa, check out the wikipedia article. Information about the museum can be found at the Vasa Museum website.

Phew what a long post. If you’ve read all of this, thanks 🙂

Hope you enjoyed it.


2 Responses to “Vasa Museum”

  1. nice pics! did you lug a DSLR there or smth? haha

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