Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Vasa Museum

The Vasa Museum in Stockholm is an entire museum dedicated to a single thing. That thing is a 17th century warship. It is nearly intact, and is the best example of its era in the world. The Vasa is a 64 gun warship that sunk on her maiden voyage in the year 1628 in Stockholm's harbor.

The sinking killed approximately 50 people, some of whom would not normally have been aboard. After the ship sunk, the story lived on, but the details faded, until no one knew exactly where she'd gone down.

She was salvaged in 1961, largely intact. More information on the ship itself can be found here:

The image above is the first thing that greets you as you walk through the door. She looks every bit as though she was plucked from Davy Jones' locker.

This is a model of what she looked like after being built. According to our best ability to determine, she was too tall, too narrow, and too lightly loaded with ballast to pose a real threat to anyone. The exact reasons for this remain a mystery, but an inquest held after the sinking suggested the King (Gustav) had a very direct hand in her construction.

The vessel you see today is you might expect of anything that spent that long on the seabed. On the day she sank, the Vasa was painted with a variety of pigments, all derived from natural elements, which are shown in this display case.

This is a view from the stern. You can see the cannon ports, including the aft ones. The Vasa was intended to be a force on the world stage, but she never made it out of the harbour.....she sunk after travelling less than one nautical mile.

Each cannon port held an embossed lion, like the above. The Vasa was intended as a serious tool of international diplomacy. She fell short of that mark.

Here you can see the array of cannon ports. There's another batch of the same on the other side..... :)
During this period, it was considred important for rulers to draw paralells between themselves and the long lost Romans. The King of Sweden did just this, and the Vasa was one instrument in that approach.

This is reflected in the carvings on the stern.

Perhaps the spookiest part of the entire exhibit is looking into the faces of some of the people who died when she sank. Forensic reconstruction techniques have been used on some of the human remains discovered on the site. In some cases, we know not just what they look like, but a great deal about how they lived, and how they died. In other cases, there were so many bones clumped together it was a challenge for the investigators to separate them out, let alone determine anything remotely resembling a cause of death.

Our next stop was the Nordic Museum...which will be the subject of my next post.


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