Throughout the 17th Century Sweden was at war with Poland and the warship Vasa was built on the orders of Sweden’s war-king Gustav Adolf, as part of the military expansion he initiated in the war with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 1621-1629.
King Gustav Adolf’s plans for a Polish campaign required a strong naval presence in the Baltic but the Swedish navy had suffered severe setbacks in the 1620s: 10 ships were wrecked in a storm in the Bay of Riga (1625) and in the Battle of Oliwa (1627) a Swedish squadron was outmaneuvered and defeated by the Polish-Lithuanian Navy.
Then, on the 10th of August 1628, the Vasa ship, one of the most powerful vessels in the world, set sail… only to sink in Stockholm’s harbour on her maiden voyage!
After 333 years under the sea – the wreck was salvaged in 1961 and can today be seen at the Vasamuseet in Stockholm. The reconstructed vessel is 98 percent original – and looks incredibly impressive:
It’s difficult to photograph it well, as in an attempt to slow down it’s deterioration, the Vasa ship is kept in a very dark, climate controlled environment, but I still hope my photographs here will be of interest (click to enlarge).
The Vasa ship looks truly magnificent, with a beautiful lion figurehead – but what is surprising and instantly clear when standing at the Stern, looking up at the very narrow and disproportionately high upper structure of the hull, is the ships fundamentally flawed design. (Unfortunately my photographs of the Stern at water level came out too dark to post here to illustrate this properly).
The day that Vasa set sail was calm, but a gust of wind forced the ship on it’s Port Side – and the ‘top-heavy’ construction gave the ship minimal ability to right herself – as water poured in through the gun ports left open to fire a salute as the ship left Stockholm…
The ship capsized and sank after only a 1300 meter journey, still in Stockholm’s harbour, 120 meters from the shore, in full view of hundreds of people that had gathered to see her set sail – to a depth of 32 meters, with the ship masts still standing above the surface after she had sunk!
It’s estimated that relatively few (about 30) people perished with the ship, and another interesting part of the exhibit are the very realistic looking face reconstructions based on some of the skeletons that were found in Vasa’s hull during the recovery in 1961.
Hundreds of intricate sculptures adorn the ship, beautifully carved in now very dark, almost black, wood. At the time though, in what looks rather garish to many of us today, the sculptures would have been painted in very vivid colours:
The Vasa ship is richly decorated with ornaments that symbolize what is in Sweden’s historical narrative known as “stormaktstiden” – Sweden’s “Superpower Time” during the 17th Century: The ship decorations are designed to glorify Sweden’s military prowess and to intimidate the enemy…
Which, leads me to one particularly curious looking sculpture that I want to draw attention to in this blog –
Just underneath the Cathead on the starboard bow there is a kneeling figure, turned facing away from us, looking in towards the ship:
This figure is depicting Sweden’s enemy: The Polish Nobleman – with a classic long moustache!
A few useful links:
Link to Vasamuseet – The Vasa Museum in Stockholm here!