So, before you read any further: we ask that you scroll through the photos first, enjoying the detail and beauty of this ship called the Vasa.
Okay, are you done? Did you do it? Are you in awe of the artwork, carvings, and great detail of the Vasa??? Good. Now, consider this: the Vasa was underwater. For a long time. A very long time. To be exact: 333 years!!!
The Vasa was built to be the finest military ship of the time, and was to be Sweden’s flagship in its war with Poland-Lithuania. It was certainly the most expensive, and most-embellished ship of its time. However, she sunk on her maiden voyage, just 390 feet from shore, and took 53 lives when she went down. Too top-heavy! It took two years to build the Vasa, from 1626-1628. King Gustavus Adolphus pushed for an accelerated schedule, and upon hearing that Denmark was building a ship with two gun decks, ordered this feature, as well. The trouble is that the keel was already laid, and adding another gun deck disrupted the center of gravity, making the Vasa unseaworthy. In addition, all of the elaborate carved figures added weight to the upper level of the ship. It needed more ballast, but adding ballast to the hold would have put the lower gun deck under water. A “lurch test” was performed to test the ship’s stability, consisting of 30 men running from side to side. The ship started to sway violently: it had failed the test, but was launched two weeks later regardless. So, from inception to launching, it had undergone many innovations with nobody bothering with the engineering specifications as the ship evolved over time.
The Vasa laid in a busy shipping channel just off the coast and slowly sunk farther and farther into the mud over the years. Its valuable bronze cannons were salvaged 30 years after it sunk, and then the wreck was forgotten. It was relocated in the 1950s and finally brought to the surface again in 1961.
The ship was a treasure trove for archaeologists, as never before had a four-story structure been recovered largely intact. Items found in the wreck included clothing, food, weapons, coins, cutlery, drink, and 6 of the 10 sails. Since the water of the Baltic Sea was very cold and polluted, with a high degree of salinity, the shipworms that normally devour wooden ships were absent. The highly toxic and hostile environment of the Baltic meant that microorganisms that break down wood had a hard time surviving. Since it was in a shipping channel, a good portion of the upper ship was destroyed by other ships dropping anchor onto it. But what was salvaged was unimaginably well preserved, as your own eyes can see!
We visited Sweden on September 8, 2012, and the museum in which it is housed is on an island just off the coast of Sweden. It is the most-visited museum in Sweden. Some vestiges of paint on the carved figures were found, leading to the restoration and repainting of some of the figures, as shown in the photos.
Toward the end of the photos, you can see some of the 15 skeletons and closeups of the skulls that were recovered from the wreck. Just like in the TV show Bones, the last photo shows a recreation of what two of the people might have looked like.