Collection Spotlight

The Vasa

Vasa is a Swedish warship built over two years (1626-1628). On her maiden voyage out of Stockholm Harbor on August 10th, 1628, the ship foundered and sank after sailing about 1,300 meters. She sat in 30 meters of water for 333 years until she was located again in 1956. She was salvaged with a largely intact hull in 1961, and moved to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm where remains one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions and has been seen by over 30 million visitors.

Armed primarily with bronze cannons cast in Stockholm specifically for the ship, it was richly decorated as a symbol of the king’s ambitions and
when completed was one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. However, the Vasa was dangerously unstable due to too much weight in the
upper structure of the hull. Stories say the king requested the second deck of cannons which was added without proper adjustments to the beam, hull shape, and ballast. Ordered to sea by the impatient king away in battle, she was launched with ports open, guns run out and sails unfurled by the king’s
subordinates, who lacked the political courage to frankly discuss the ship’s structural problems or have the maiden voyage postponed. Vasa foundered only a few minutes after she first encountered a wind stronger than a breeze.

Since her recovery, the Vasa has become a widely recognized symbol of the Swedish “great power period” under King Gustavus Adolphus. She and her
artifacts have provided scholars with invaluable insight into details of naval warfare, shipbuilding techniques and everyday life in early 17th-century Sweden. Using polyethyleneglycol, she is the largest single item ever archaeologically preserved. She is also a monument to the problems of technological change and, according to the stories, a lesson in the fear we have of “telling truth to power” particularly when it is absolute.

Excerpt from The Anchor Newsletter, August, 2014.

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