On a clear Swedish summer day, I waited in a long queue for about 20-minutes before I was finally, eye to eye, with Vasamuseet’s ticket checker. He briskly glanced at the piece of paper I was clasping until now, then returned it with a smile, pointing towards the entrance with his left hand. This piece of paper was both, my access card for the next few hours, as well as, a souvenir I was sure to carry back home. Ever since I landed in Stockholm, I have been waiting to visit this Maritime marvel and Scandinavia’s most-visited museum. Vasamuseet, as it’s called in Swedish, is a dim-lit museum that unveils prestigious antiquities with every foot forward. Although, when I first entered the museum, the superlative-sighting of a gigantic, 300-year old ship overtook my power of reasoning. For the first few minutes, I was left zapped with astonishment!
It’s inconceivable how an ornamented ship that stayed, underwater for centuries, emerged intact on its own, one day. Then again, like they say, “When you allow yourself to be unpredictable, you step from the known into the unknown, where anything is possible.” On that thought, I marched out to wallow-in a historically rich experience. As soon as, the first word of the tour guide dropped into my ear, I was teleported right back to the 16th-century. Yes, the museum offers free guided tours in English. Without which, you will only find yourself frittering away like a lost puppy. After all, to accurately understand the fate of Vasa Ship, you must follow in the footsteps of those who know it all.
The museum tour kicked off in the company of a few other international tourists, each engaged in admiring the artistically-grand exteriors of the ‘antiquated’ warship. Enraptured in awe of the titanic-structure, I took a plodding glance of the ship from bottom to top. While my eyes were glued to the carvings, I could also feel the large suspended wooden windows taking a secret look at me.
Call it a perpetual Deja Vu or a sneaking-suspicion, but I could feel, the immortal souls peeping at me through a chink in the wall. Perhaps the invisible protectors still look after the treasure, they meticulously built and rowed in the sixteenth century. How else, could Vasa mysteriously rise from the womb of the Baltic Sea, 300 years later, emerging intact on a Swedish shoreline, demanding to be embraced and cherished like a royalty. Legends have it that the Vasa was gilded on its stern scrollwork as, it was for the power, it possessed.
Truer, words were never, spoken. So to preserve the royal pride that had appeared from the sea, as if by magic, the Sweden government introduced Vasa Museum in June 1990. In the present time, this is Scandinavia’s most-visited museum having imparted historic-knowledge to over 29 million tourists. In the meanwhile, the guide continued to enliven the ancient vibes with his melodious words, narrating the bountiful Swedish era, during which, Vasa was built and ornamented. Interesting history, indeed! Built with an aesthetically-poetic design by Swedish King Adolphus Gustavus, Vasa was primarily constructed to serve warfare.
However, least did King Gustavus know, that what he was building then, would eventually become the world’s most famed ship in the future. As we leisurely strolled around, admiring the prehistoric art on display, I learned that 400 skilled artisans and engineers crafted Vasa into a beautiful dream. Then again, that’s not what makes Vasa the greatest, ship, of all times! What does, is, its combined weight before it sailed into the deep waters of the Baltic sea.
Stocked with 64-bronze guns, Vasa was the ‘heaviest’ ship of its line. The heaviest to disembark the Stockholm harbour, and sinking halfway through its maiden journey, for the same reason. European Naval fleet battles were a common-exercise in the early centuries, indulging nations into contesting each other to rule the Mediterranean trade domination. Similarly, Vasa was built to participate in the Poland-Lithuania war, Sweden was embroiled, between 1611 and 1718.
In this war, neighbouring territories were fighting it out, to gain the dominant power in the Baltic. One of the reasons why, this Combatant ship of medieval Scandinavia, was fitted with large-calibre guns onboard. Because of its load-bearing ability, and higher freeboard, Vasa was better suited for gunpowder weapons and to open waters. With one disadvantage, which was to entirely rely on the wind for mobility. I think the wind must have played a significant role in deciding the fate of Vasa. A dominant high pressure may have imbalanced the angled sail, resulting in an unexpected drowning. Or, could it be the density of its relative mass? After all, Vasa could fire gunshots weighing 267 kg from one side of the ship. Whether, wind or the heavyweight, Vasa indicated that she was not willing to participate in a war. As for the recovered artefacts, including the cannons, each is parked in the backdrop of this colossal ship.
The essential queue management allows an equal opportunity for everyone to observe the historical masterpieces in the given order. Starting with coins and ending at un-mutilated skeletons! In between, they have Roman-Greek-Swedish artefacts, utensils, and relics carved in oak, pine and linden. Astonishing, isn’t it? I mean nearly 500 ancient-artefacts were retrieved from underwater, each intact to its core. The long list of findings includes Dutch, European, Egyptian, mermaids, tribal men, ocean creatures and Triton paintings. While other interesting, household items recovered are the handwritten letters, clothing, tools, weapons and cutlery.
To protect Vasa’s exquisite spirit and design, Vasamusset has replaced some of the damaged parts with the new ones. However, none of these replacement parts, have been re-painted or treated with chemicals. What, can I say except, Vasamuseet is nurturing Vasa Ship with all the love and care, she deserves. By this time, my guided tour had come to an end, but to quench my historic thirst, I kept sauntering; brooding about the political foundation of the Swedish power, as well, about marine archaeologists who diligently recovered 70% of the ship’s belongings. The main hall, in particular, showcases skulls and other significant discoveries.
For once, skulls and skeletons failed to creep me out. My mind kept jogging my memory, “Gunshots were fired to bid Vasa, a royal adjö as it carried legendary warriors onboard.” These are those legendary remnants! The ship’s misfortune may have caused, a throbbing setback to the Royal Kingdom of Sweden, in 1628, however, Vasa’s mysterious reappearance in 1961, doubled the joy for the entire Scandinavia. There’s a Swedish proverb, “Shared joy is a double joy.” To abide by it, Swedes have permanently preserved the vaunted fate of Vasa Ship in Vasamuseet. I returned, amazed, so should you! However, access to this ‘monumental’ museum comes at a small price of SEK 130 or EUR 13.