Located in Stockholm, Sweden on the island of Djurgården, the Vasa Museum displays the 17th-century warship Vasa, the only extant intact ship of its era, as part of a museum complex commemorating Swedish maritime history. The 64-gun warship Vasa was constructed as part of a four-ship contracting order commissioned in January of 1625 by the King of Sweden, designed by Dutch master shipwrights Henrik Hybertsson and Arendt de Groote.
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Of the four ships, Vasa was imagined as the most powerful warship of the era within the Baltic region, and was the final work of Hybertsson, who fell ill during the ship’s construction and died shortly thereafter, transferring supervision of the project to his assistant Hein Jakobsson. The ship was completed at Stockholm’s Skeppsgården navy yard and launched in 1627, weighing in at a massive 1,200 tonnes and measuring 69 meters in length.
Immediately upon embarking on its first voyage in the summer of 1628, ship captain Söfring Hansson noticed issues with the ship’s operation, but was pressured by Vice Admiral Klas Fleming to proceed with sailing. After sailing a distance of only 1,300 meters, still within sight of Skeppsgården, the ship sunk and was submerged to the sea floor. Several unsuccessful attempts were made between 1663 and 1665 to raise the shipwreck, which only resulted in the retrieval of the craft’s cannons. The ship was not raised until 1956, when it was discovered at the bottom of Stockholm Bay in nearly perfect condition. Efforts to recover the ship were undertaken over the next several years, receiving much public support and attention, and in April of 1961, the craft was successfully raised before a crowd of thousands of onlookers. A temporary museum facility was opened the following year, with more than 439,000 visitors attending within its first year of operation, and over the course of the following decades, intense restoration efforts were undertaken to return the ship to its original condition and preserve it as a national cultural landmark. In 1990, the ship and museum were moved to a new permanent location on Stockholm’s Djurgården island.
Permanent Exhibitions and Attractions
Today, the Vasa Museum, nationally known as Vasamuseet, preserves the nearly-intact 64-gun warship in the harbor outside its main facility, though no visitors are allowed on the ship itself due to the ship’s fragile historic condition. More than 1.2 million visitors attend the museum annually, making it one of the top tourist attractions in the country of Sweden. The museum has been voted by TripAdvisor as the ninth-best museum in the world and has earned a status as a major cultural landmark throughout Europe, as the only extant intact 17th-century warship salvaged for public display.
Following more than 50 years of restoration work, the ship has been returned to its original 17th-century condition, showcasing more than 10 sails, 64 cannons, 120 tonnes of ballast, and a wide variety of wooden sculpture embellishments along its structures. A modern climate-control system was implemented in 2004 to prevent the ship’s deterioration due to high humidity and sulfur damage, ensuring the continued preservation of more than 98% of the ship’s original structures and amenities. Several other historic warships may also be viewed on display, docked outside the museum alongside Vasa.
Within the museum facility, a number of exhibits and galleries examine the construction of the ship, the historic conditions surrounding its commission, the conditions and casualties of its sinking, and the ongoing preservation efforts following its rescue. A Life On Board exhibit recreates the everyday life aboard a 17th-century warship, complete with recovered artifacts and full-scale models, while a Stockholm Shipyard exhibit explores the construction process for similar ships of the era. Tales of shipwreck survivors and eyewitness accounts are presented in the Face to Face and Vasa’s Women exhibits, while The Power and the Glory recreates the 17th-century appearance of the ship’s coloring through a multimedia slideshow. Other exhibits focus on salvaging and preservation efforts and the ship’s legacy in popular culture.
Ongoing Programs and Education
In addition to standard visitor admission, guided tours of the museum are offered for individuals and small groups, with docents elaborating on the political and social climate of 17th-century Sweden through anecdotes and additional exhibit information. Curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities are also available for primary and secondary school students. Documentary screenings are offered daily at the museum, providing cultural context and dramatization related to the ship’s history. A variety of family activities and events are offered periodically at the museum, including daily activities for young visitors and their families to emphasize practical learning skills and introduce history concepts.
Galärvarvsvägen 14, 115 21 Stockholm, Sweden, Phone: +46-8-51-95-48-00