A Ship from the Fairy Tales

Inspired by the posts about Railways and their fans, I remembered about another emblematic transportation topic that impressed me a lot during my three-weeks long trip to Scandinavia, 9 years ago. I can say that it was the most fun discovery I had on that trip.

Author: Lidija BP. A sporadical museum visitor and an enthusiastic explorer. 

In front of the port of Stockholm…

Thanks to a pretentious and stubborn king, his unlucky naval architect and indecisive engineers, contemporary Stockholm has an incredible museum that has been its landmark since it was inaugurated in 1990. The Vasa Museum is the most visited non-art museum in Scandinavia and I have a feeling that it’s a kind of national pride along with the Royal Family and their properties.

I admit that I was enthusiastic about visiting the city on 14 islands (smile), knowing about the variety of things to see and do in Stockholm, but I did not expect such a magnificent story told in one single museum. The whole story is somehow sad, but at the same time fascinating, since an entire ship is situated in the Museum’s large hall, so it provide a lot of fun to children who will be imagining the old times and royal splendour, as well as to maritime fans (something like railway fans, isn’t it?) who will be observing all the details.

The maquette, Vasa Museum
This is the ship’s maquette

This ship, named Vasa, was conserved naturally, hidden within the sandy seafloor in front of the Stockholm’s port. On the same place where it sunk during (it’s better to say in the beginning of!) the maiden voyage in the summer 1628.

The king in question was Gustav II Adolf, from the Vasa dinasty and the dinasty’s founder grandson. Pretending to make Sweden the greatest power of the North, he ordered the 4 new war ships while the Vasa was intended to be the most powerful one, on the Baltic and beyond.

Vasa Museum
It’s even difficult to take a picture of the entire space and ship, so large space…

I guess that the King was an ardous art fan so along with the powerful army, he insisted on the ship’s estethic and design, which made that as much as hundreds of craftsmen worked on decorative details. Constantly unsatisfied with the amount of glamour and beauty, he persisted ordering more and more paneling, ornaments and reliefs which harmed the ship’s statics.

Details fount in the sea depths
Details from the ship’s decorations

Related: 6 Amazing Discoveries in Finland

The ship, decorated with as much as 100 wooden statues, looked like a crazy King’s whimsey. The main naval architect who worked on it passed away during the construction so he was suceeded by his assistant, while the King’s requirements were multiplying from one day to another. Despite the warnings and deprecations given by the engineers, that the ship has too many defects, the King was not in the moodt to wait more, so he ordered the maiden voyage for the August 1628. So at that moment, the Vasa ship started its first and last voyage, with 450 passengers and crew members.

After only 1200 meters it began to sink, observed by the citizens of Stockholm and many royal delegates and diplomates who were invited to the ceremony.

The whole tragedy was subjected to an investigation during which the responsible people were interrogated, and the undoubted conclusion was that the ship was badly projected. As the main architect had already died, he could not defend himself or be condemned, while the others were released and continued working for the Navy. The main reason for such decision was a political one, as it happened many times, because even the Court had to try protecting the King’s reputation and honour, although the King was the most responsible due to his unreasonable ideas and requirements.

One Story, Many Pieces

All the known details about this maritime disaster are taken from the reports and testimonials given by the captain and surviving crew. The bodies of 25 people died were found when the ship was rescued, and as the forensic analysis science has advanced since then, so all these remains were identified so today we know all about each of them.

The astonishing facial reconstructions are exposed in the museum along with the estimated data, such as age, sex or even profession. There are also some personal code names, invented for the purpose of exhibition.



This man is named Adam and he was 35-40 years old, 165 tall, he was a common sailor and in young years was probably involved in some fights, as his nose had been broken.

The curiosity is that few furniture companies wanted the black oak, the dominant material in which ship was constructed, for their products in the popular Art Deco style. Luckily such initiative did not result, because otherwise we would not have this museum today 🙂

Finally, after the years of investigations and actions of conservation the Vasa Museum was opened to public in 1990. It contains as much as 40000 pieces belonging to the ship and the crew. There are original pieces of army, tools, coins, and personal belongings, as well as the remains of the fatalities.

Wooden details. Vasa Museum

Even tough the story behind the Museum is a tragedy, the Vasa Museum provides a fun, and also very emotional experience, symbolising a spirit of a time and a nation, while it’s also an opportunity to see a ship which is fairly similar to those drawn historical ships that you see in cartoons or historical movies, on 3D visualisations. This is a real life encounter with such a ship.

This is the World’s unique original and completely preserved ship from the 17th century. Still today, 55 years after it was released from the sea depths, the Vasa has not reveled all its secrets while the researchers are still working and discovering new details which will soon enlarge and enrich the Museum’s content even more.

Related: Historical Imagination – Marco Polo House

If you are interested in visiting this museum, I recommend you to visit their great website. After 9 years, I’m sure that many thing were updated and that I could have that same amazing experience again, with many surprises. 

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