Living Stockholm II: Vasa Museum

Only few tourists are found on streets: the cold, humid air of November and a few unintermitted days of winter rain would quench any plans of hanging out —— to stay warm, to stay indoor are probably the most common weekend wish for Swedes. In this blog, I am going to describe a way how a warm, indoor, yet fulfilling weekend can be spent: visiting the Vasa Museum.

Movement I: The King

Once upon a time, there was a warrior King, who was the bravest of all, made his country the greatest of its neighbours. To safeguard his people,  he decided to build a warship, which had to be so powerful and enormous to be comparable to the greatness of the time that he created. He named the warship with his own surname: Vasa.

When I stepped into the Vasa Museum on the by the Baltic Sea in Stockholm, I knew that the warship, Vasa, must have satiated all the dreams of the King, Gustav III. First, Vasa is HUGE:

Length 69 m and width 11.7 m, Vasa spans the entire exhibition hall of Vasa museum.

She is POWERFUL: equipped with total 64 cannons, she was one of the most intimidating warship at its time. These canons spread evenly over the ship, shielded by the lion-head, which is a symbol of Gustav III.

She is SPLENDID. The entire ship, especially the the foremost part, was meticulously engraved by wooden sculptures and high reliefs.

It is said that in order to make these ornaments alone, thousands of oak trees in Swedish forests were hewed, which is a total lack of conservation that, Swedish citizens nowadays should nonetheless avoid.

A color restoration of Vasa should look like:

Without any flattering, it is a masterpiece of baroque art,  I emphasise,  “art” only.

Movement II: The Tempest

Just like the old, old Homeric Epic, it must a tempest ahead of the maiden voyage of such a great warship. The fateful “tempest” came true on the 10th of August, 1628.

Less than half an hour after she set sail, a gust of summer breeze push her on the port side. Slowly and gradually, Vasa foundered in the witness of thousands, disappearing eventually from the sea level.

(Photo by) Model in Vasa Museum showing the sinking of Vasa

The consequence of being heavily ornamented and heavily armed —— Vasa became too heavy, especially in the upperworks.

It caused the dilemma: to balance the weight of the upper part, a huge amount of ballast stones should be stored in the hold; at the same time, having too many stones would submerge the gun decks in water, rendering Vasa non-functional.

Movement III: The Salvage

The most intriguing part of the museum visit is how people awaked this gigantic sleeping beauty (13,000 tonnes) 300 years after her deep slumber. In the museum, there is an entire floor recording how technology and determination of the Swedish government and people concurred to rediscover, salvage and restore the warship.

The most skilful divers were needed to locate the ship in cold, dark water. (model)

The warship was lifted from its wreck site. (model)

To the surprise of many, the restoration of the ship took more than three decades, which is much longer than its salvage, and it is still on going today.

There is a perceptible difference of humidity, temperature and light intensity from the outside, because optimal conditions for the preservation of the war have to be maintained.

Today, Vasa Museum is one of the most popular museum in Scandinavia. But to the 30 lives which perished on board, to the King who never saw his beloved warship set sail, to the tempest, the bloody battles and victories that would never take place:

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change,

Into something rich and strange.