Tuesday, January 3, 2012


The day after Christmas, Matthew and I abandoned the girl with my parents (thanks for babysitting Mom and Dad!) and made the drive to Stockholm. Though short, we enjoyed our time in the archipelago visiting the Vasa Museum and walking around Gamla Stan. The Vasamuseet, a maritime museum on the island of Djurgården claims to be the most visited museum in Scandinavia and is home to the nearly intact, 64-gun, 17th century warship Vasa. Obviously, it was Matthew’s idea to see the Vasa (my only goals for our trip to Stockholm were to eat good food and try to see the handsome Swedish prince) but I found myself fascinated with both the ship and the idea of a museum commemorating an epic naval failure.

On our guided tour of the museum, we learned that the Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 after sailing for less than one nautical mile. The Vasa was commissioned by Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus who spared no expense decorating and equipping the ship to be a tribute to the glory of Sweden. Adorned with brightly painted wooden sculptures imported from German and Dutch artists, the imagery of gods and goddesses, sea monsters and tritons, kings and wild men, served to glorify the authority of Sweden and deride their enemy, Poland.

Replicas of the carvings seen above as they would have been painted.

Pigments based on the chemical analysis of remaining paint.
The ship was also heavily armed with two gun decks and a total of 64 guns. Normally the top deck would house smaller, lighter weapons, but since this was the prize of the Swedish navy, the ship was ordered to have full sized guns on both decks, further increasing the instability of the already top-heavy ship. Interestingly, the weapons were recovered in the 1700s and sold to the Danish (who then used them in war against the Swedes) and only 3 of the original guns remain.

Built by two separate sets of craftsmen, we know now that the narrow hull of the ship was constructed with different techniques and was substantially heavier on one side than the other. Our tour guide explained that if the Vasa had been just one meter wider she most likely would have sailed successfully.

A perfect storm of calamity led to the quick demise of the unstable Vasa. On her maiden voyage, the ship sailed east with gun ports open and guns out to salute Stockholm. Wind filled the sails causing the ship to heel suddenly to port before slowly righting herself. Another gust of wind followed, this time pushing the lower gun decks under water. The incoming rush of the water quickly sank the vasa only 120 meters from the shore. Survivors clung to debris awaiting rescue from spectators (it was considered unlucky for sailors to know how to swim at the time) and 30-50 people perished with the ship.


Surprisingly, no one was punished for the fate of the Vasa. (Side note: I learned what keel hauling is... sounds awful. And deadly.) The crewmen and contractors set up two camps, each blaming the other, and the shipbuilders claimed that they had just followed orders. The sinking was explained as an act of God and, though the sinking of the Vasa was a major economic disaster, no one was punished. The ship was raised in the 1960s and has been housed in the museum since 1990.  All in all, worth a look if you're ever in Stockholm.

This one is me-sized!

This is for my cousin, a diver in the US Navy.
The remainder of our time in Stockholm was spent exploring the medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and North German architecture of Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. Gamla Stan is home to the Nobel Museum, the Stockholm Cathedral, and Royal Palace, as well as some of the narrowest passageways I’ve ever seen.

Back in the day this was the shipyard where the Vasa was built.

Not the most intimidating palace guard.

Phone booth!

Nobel Museum

Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, 90 cm wide, the narrowest alley in Stockholm.
Maintaining the reputation of American tourists.

Stopping for a hot chocolate break

Stockholm Cathedral

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