Viking Museum: immerse yourself in the daily life of this Scandinavian people!Viking Museum: immerse yourself in the daily life of this Scandinavian people!
Culture and Heritage
In the distance, the mast of a ship looms on the horizon, protruding from the roof of a building on the island of Djurgården. This first glimpse of the Vasa Museet reveals the massive size of the treasure it houses: the Vasa, this mythical ship that was wrecked in 1628, during its maiden voyage from Stockholm. As resurfaces from the depths after 333 years spent at the bottom of the sea, the wreck of the Vasa is exposed to the eyes of the world in this vast space in order to preserve the splendor of this priceless testimony to Humanity. Considered the remnant of the seventeenth century the best preserved in the world, the ship has 98% of original pieces.
This unmissable museum in Stockholm is today the most visited in Scandinavia with more than a million visitors per year! Exceptional, breathtaking, grandiose… adjectives are undoubtedly lacking to qualify this masterpiece of Swedish navigation with its tragic destiny. Head to Djurgården to explore this iconic museum!
the restored Vasa found its current shelter in 1990 in the museum dedicated to it
We are August 10, 1628. It is the big day. The weather conditions are met to allow the Vasa to cast off after two years of construction. At the foot of the Tre Kronor castle, the Vasa leaves the pier of the port of Stockholm and prepares to take off with 437 passengers, under the astonished eyes of the crowd gathered on the banks who utter cries of admiration. The atmosphere is festive, the excitement at its peak! Hundreds of boats and canoes are out. Everyone wants to see the Vasa leave the arsenal. Drum roll, cannon fire. The Vasa sails slowly on the cold waters of the channel in the middle of a bustling harbor. The ports, the gun hatches, are open. A salvo is fired to greet the crowd. The pride of the Kingdom of Sweden is on its way to glory...
the port of Stockholm and the Vasa
On board, the captain, Söfring Hansson, is not at ease. He decides to deploy only four of the ten large hemp sails, inflated by the wind. The ship rocks a little at the first gust. We witness the first cries and the first fears when he has only covered a small nautical mile, ie… 1852 meters. Suddenly a second gust brought him down on the sides to port. The unthinkable happens: the water infiltrates through the open ports and the Vasa sinks in a few minutes, engulfed by the waves, under the eyes of thousands of the king's subjects, astonished. There is panic on board. The small boats rush to help the passengers who jump into the water, screaming. Little by little, the ship sank into the thick mud, taking with it around thirty sailors trapped in the lower decks. The shock is immense. The humiliated king. At the bottom of Stockholm's waters, the ship gradually sinks into oblivion.
Reconstruction of the sinking of the Vasa. From the second gust of wind, the waterline came dangerously close to the ports that had remained open.
The story of Vasa could have ended there. However, it will experience a spectacular rebound, three hundred years later when Anders Franzén, engineer and expert in Swedish naval history, found the wreck in 1956 after five years of research. But how do you get the boat to the surface?
A titanic worksite is being put in place to get the wreck out of the water: refloating is a delicate operation
On April 24, 1961, hundreds of millions of viewers witnessed this long-awaited moment, their eyes riveted on their small screen: the wreck of the Vasa resurfaced from the waves, lifted by cables and towed to a dry dock. Archaeological excavations begin: 30,000 period pieces are extracted from the exceptionally well preserved wreck. They will allow historians to answer this question: how could such a drama come about? The conclusions are clear: the ship was too high, too heavy, not wide enough and with too high a center of gravity. The Vasa was unstable, just poorly built.
To visit the Vasa Museet is to embark on a human adventure full of emotions, to meet an exceptional maritime heritage. In this sanctuary rests the wreck of the ship which was to be the flagship of the fleet of the Swedish kingdom. No need to be a history buff to marvel at this giant of the seas: see with his own eyes what warship as it was in the seventeenth century is a unique experience during a stay in Stockholm.
As we enter the museum grounds, the wreckage of the huge wooden boat stands proudly in front of us. Its immense silhouette in the half-light leaves you speechless. The state of conservation of the Vasa impresses at first glance: it is almost intact! Its proportions are gigantic: no need to try to capture it entirely in photo, it protrudes from the frame as its dimensions are impressive: 69 meters long and 52.5 meters high (from the keel to the mainmast).
Attracted like magnets, hypnotized by its beauty, we walk forward open-mouthed to contemplate it up close. The ship is full of patterns carved in wood, once covered in red, gold and blue paints. Alongside the ship, a model of the Vasa as it looked like in the seventeenth century gives a clear idea of its former splendor.
sculptures of Roman emperors, symbols of power
the figurehead is a lion carved from linden wood
It must be said that this three-masted with bright colors had a hell of a look! Sweden has never built such an impressive and ostentatious building. The ship weighs 1,200 tons, its mast carries ten sails and 64 guns, spread over two decks, are ready to fire. From the lion of the figurehead to the rear tower, covered with 700 gilded and polychrome wood sculptures , it is a real eye-catcher! This is exactly what King Gustav II Adolf "the Great" wanted: to show his power and arouse fear of foreign fleets. On seeing the Vasa, the common people, illiterate, must decipher the messages of its figures at first sight (sirens, newts, goddesses of antiquity, Roman soldiers, lion…). Enemies will immediately know who they are dealing with!
After this first encounter with the ship, it is advisable to explore the exhibits presented on each floor to deepen our knowledge. The scenography invites the visitor to a perfect immersion in the universe of Vasa on the 4 levels of the museum. Watching the 15-minute film on the history of the ship is a good starting point for the visit and allows you to contextualize the times and events.
captivating interactive exhibits
At the entrance, an exhibition on women illustrates their role on board. Further on, objects taken from the Vasa help us imagine daily life at sea. Models illustrate the refloating of this colossal boat between 1956 and 1961 as well as the diving methods of the time.
Finally, a global vision of the naval forces in the Baltic and the tensions between the countries is presented, thus defining the missions of the Vasa before its departure. We are in the midst of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and the Vasa must make a spectacular appearance in this context.
tensions around the Baltic
On the upper floors, all other subjects are discussed: life on board, illnesses, roping and veiling of boats, conservation, etc. The museum pays particular attention to the harmony of the scenographic design. An audio guide allows (free) to follow a self-guided tour accompanied by explanations with his phone and thanks to the museum's wifi!
a museum on 4 floors for different perspectives of the boat
Unearthed by archaeologists, the skeletons of seventeen shipwreck victims now rest on the lower level of the museum. The study of the bones and human remains of these crew members reveals valuable information to researchers: the age, size, diseases and diet of the victims. Contrary to some stereotypes, these sailors were small, measuring between 1.60 m and 1.76 m. Many had previous injuries and bad teeth before boarding the Vasa caused by poor dental hygiene. Thanks to the 3D facial reconstruction of their skulls, sculptor Oscar Nilsson returned the faces to some of the castaways. Hypotheses suggest that the oldest of them would even be the captain of the ship.
The Vasa Museet is a marvel not to be missed! It is a rare and extremely valuable evidence of life aboard a warship in the seventeenth century and is open to all age groups.
Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson for the City Guide Stockholm
Culture and Heritage
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