A visit with VASA

The warship Vasa was the pride of Sweden's king Gustavus Adolphus when she was launched in 1628, but she capsized and sank barely a mile into her first voyage.   Raised and preserved she is an extraordinary memorial and a unique example of both 17th century shipbuilding and naval life.

In this image a scale model of Vasa sits in front of the real thing.  The actual ship is now housed in a special climate controlled building.  When raised, the wood had lost all traces of its original paint scheme.  However, the model has been painted based on surviving descriptions and paintings of the era

The Vasa was adorned with incredibly elaborate carvings and scrollwork, most of which have stood up amazingly well.  The vast majority of what you see in today's museum is original 400-year-old wood.

Here's a mix of original scrollwork and painted reconstructions . . .

But there's more . . . .

The mud of the harbor protected and preserved the wreckage remarkably well.   Archaeologists have recovered most of the ship's sails, the gun carriages (the guns themselves were salvaged shortly after the sinking via early diving bell) and the remains of the passengers and crew.

Now, the faces of the crew have been reconstructed and they gaze back at us impassively.  It's downright eerie, encountering these faces on the bottom level of the exhibit, with the dark hull of the ship towering five stories high behind you . . . .

The last figure is particularly noteworthy because he's believed to be the Vasa's steersman.  It was he who held the rudder as the ship rolled over in her first stiff wind, and he drowned at his post, where they found him.

The Vasa museum was surely the high point of my tour today.  I recommend this remarkable display of nautical history to anyone.  It's almost worth the $2,500 airfare by itself!

More on Vasa, from Wikipedia

The Vasa Museum website (English version)

These pictures were taken with a Nikon D7000 and Nikkor 24-120 lens.  John Elder Robison is a photographer and bestselling author.  His books Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby are read worldwide.  John lives in Western Massachusetts, in the United States.


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