When in Stockholm, visiting the Vasa Museum is usually high on people’s agenda. It wasn’t on mine as I thought it might be just another touristy attraction. I can’t believe how wrong I was! Let me show you why…
On the 10 August 1628, the Vasa Ship sailed forth on her maiden voyage, in the Stockholm harbour. Stockholmers, officers and foreign ambassadors had gathered to admire the beauty of the newest Royal Ship. But fate was to play a terrible trick on her, as instead of celebrating the glory of such ship, all the people who had gathered were to witnesses her terrible destiny… The biggest, most richly decorated and most expensive ship ever constructed in Sweden at the time, met an unfortunate fate: The Vasa Ship sank after having sailed 1300 meters.
Please forgive my ignorance…
When thinking of Sweden, I think of the Northern lights, Lapland, mooses, bears and wolves roaming around unspoiled landscapes made of beautiful forests and lakes, thousand of lakes… Ok, I’ll admit, when I think of Sweden, I also think of tall, blond, handsome men (eventually also women), but hey I can’t be blamed for this!
When thinking of the history of Sweden, and since I know so little about it, in my poor little mind, it seems to jumped straight from Viking ages to modern times which includes World renown social welfare and the design of sleek furniture. I know! This is bad!
Before my last trip to Sweden, I did very little research on Stockholm as I didn’t think our road trip would take us there. I had seen pictures of the Vasa Ship but didn’t think much of it and didn’t dive in its surprising history and ironical fate.
Base on these proofs of my total ignorance of what the Vasa Museum was hiding, you can imagine how mesmerized I was to visit…
The Vasa Museum
The Vasa museum is centered around a single item: the Vasa Ship. What an item! As you pass the entrance, the Vasa Ship is there, standing fiercely, despite being earth-bound and out of its natural element. The Vasa bow seems ready to pierce through the walls of the museum, to start a new journey.
As you stand at the entrance, on the first floor, you have to look up to admire her hull. The Vasa ship is so big that you can only see her partially from there. The ship is like a poised & elegant Lady greeting you in her home, from the top of a staircase. As she is looking down on you, she first needs to have a good look at you, before deciding if you are worthy of the grand tour. It is quite an impressive way to meet!
Eventually, she will allow you to explore the museum. As you will be lead up and around the Vasa Ship, details will be revealed and all her beauty will be presented to you.
What you will learn in the Vasa Museum
The Vasa Museum is extremely well presented. There are different open areas on different floors which display various objects excavated from the ship, pictures, reproductions, models, etc. with plenty of explanations.
Some areas are about the construction process of the ship, the different craftsmanships required from carpenter to wood carvers, painters, sail-makers and pit-sawyers.
Other areas are about the life on board. Games played by the crew members, how the food was stored, how the cook prepared the meals, how much seamen earned (not a lot!)… You can walk in a reproduction of the Captain’s cabin, or stand on a rigging platform.
You will learn about the excavation process, the archeological findings, the preservation process used and why she was so well-preserved.
The Vasa Ship is facing some new challenges today and those are also explained.
As you walk around the ship, you will be able to admire the impressive statues and other wood carving work of art, especially on the Stern Gallery (psss… that’s the back of the ship! don’t repeat, I said this) Painted reproduction are also displayed to show what the Vasa Ship would have looked like at the peak of its glory.
You will also understand why the Vasa Ship sank. Based on modern technologies, we do know now, that it wasn’t “God’s will” but because she was too top-heavy. But, don’t say this in front of her, thought, she is a Lady!
OK, I’ll give you some of the answers with the below pictures
Display of seamen wooden plates and spoons on the top and butter casks and barrels in the above pictures.
Below pictures show a board game brought on the ship by an officer.
The galley (i.e. the kitchen) was located at the bottom of the ship. The bottom of the fire-place was covered in bricks. A huge cast iron cauldron was used to cook on such fire. There was no chimney and the smoke would just freely escape through the upper decks.
Life on board a ship, like the Vasa Ship, was rough. Seamen and soldiers lived on the lower decks, almost in the dark, with no comfort. Sickness spread easily and could decimate the whole crew rapidly. A monotonous diet, lack of vitamin C, extreme weather conditions, non-existent hygiene, lack of medicine… all of these conditions meant that dying from an epidemic was a greater risk than dying in a battle.
The senior officers lived in greater comfort and the captain’s cabin was richly decorated. The above picture shows a reproduction of the cabin.
The stern of the Vasa ship was richly decorated and the Vasa was 95% intact when brought back to the surface in 1961. The newest part have a slightly lighter color.
The ship name was not indicated on the Vasa ship. Instead, the Vasa stern was decorated with the Vasa family’s coat of arms.
The exhibition around the ship also show how ships like the Vasa ship were built. 1,000 oaks were used for the Vasa and specific tree shape were sought for specific use (see below picture).
There is a model of the Vasa Ship standing proudly next to the original ship. This model shows the original painting of the ship. (not obvious on my pictures as the painting was mostly on the stern, sorry!)
One thing you will learn in the exhibition, is the positive effect of pollution. That’s something you won’t hear often! As you can read below on the picture of one of the display, the extremely good condition of the ship is partially due to the heavy pollution of the water that has surrounded her! Let’s just not get too excited, though. 300 years ago, there was no plastic waste and the pollution referred to here, was most likely not as toxic, as what we produce now.
If you are wondering how the Vasa Ship was put into the Vasa Museum, here is your answer:
This picture show the protected Vasa Ship being put inside the partially built museum. There were no further info on the process, but one can assume that they finished the museum afterward.
The Vasa ship in numbers
Total length: 69 meters (226 ft)
Width: 11.7 meters (38 ft)
Height: 52,5 meters (172 ft)
Sails: 1,275 square m (13,720 sq ft)
nb of sails: 10
Armament: 64 guns
Crew: 145 seamen – 300 soldiers
Other interesting numbers:
Number of toilets: 2 (OMG!!)
Barber / doctor: 1
Flog master: 1
And what toilets!? See the little square box, kind of in the middle of the above picture? That’s one of the toilet! In quite a dangerous and uncomfortable place.
If you have the opportunity, do visit the Vasa Museum!
You won’t often hear me say this: the Vasa Museum is a fantastic museum! You know my love for castles and you may even have noticed how forgiving I can be for the lack of information or even worst, the inaccurate information some can provide. When it comes to museum, I’m just not as forgiving and simply have higher expectations.
Come to think of it, I realized that some of the best museums I have visited were in Nordic countries. So, either I’m partial to Nordic culture, either they have a secret way to create museums. If it is the later, they need to share with the World!
The Technical Bits:
The official website : www.vasamuseet.se
This Vasa Museum is the most visite museum in Stockholm so it can be a little crowded. However the museum is huge so there is plenty of space. In addition, it is well-organized and somehow, they have managed to create a constant flow of people. This means it is easy to get a good view of the things on display.
The best way to reach the Vasa Museum is by boat. Well at least that’s the best way to have a great view!
Dear photographer friends, get ready to shoot in high ISO. It’s pretty dark in most of the museum. And bring a wide angle lens!
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