Housed in an oddly shaped building close to Nordiska Muséet, Vasamuséet is without question head and shoulders above Stockholm’s other museums. It contains the perfectly preserved seventeenth-century warship, the Vasa, which was built on the orders of King Gustav II Adolf, but sank in Stockholm harbour on her maiden voyage in 1628. A victim of engineering miscalculation, the Vasa’s hull was too narrow to withstand even the slightest swell which, when coupled with top-heavy rigging, made her a maritime disaster waiting to happen. On August 10 she went down with all hands barely a few hundred metres from her moorings. Preserved in mud for over three hundred years, the ship was raised along with twelve thousand objects in 1961, and now forms the centrepiece of the museum.
Adjacent to the Vasamuséet, three 2.5m-high granite walls now stand in the form of a triangle as a memorial to those who died in the Estonia ferry distaster in 1994; the inscription reads simply “their names and their fate, we shall never forget”.
The museum itself is built over part of the old naval dockyard. Impressive though the building is, nothing prepares you for the sheer size of the ship: 62m long, the main mast originally 50m above the keel, it sits virtually complete in a cradle of supporting mechanical tackle. Surrounding walkways bring you nose-to-nose with cannon hatches and restored decorative relief, the gilded wooden sculptures on the soaring prow designed to intimidate the enemy and proclaim Swedish might. Carved into the ship’s stern, the resplendent figures of two naked cherubs complete with podgy stomachs and rosy cheeks, proudly bearing the Swedish crown between them, are truly remarkable for their fine detail and garish colours. Adjacent exhibition halls and presentations on several levels take care of all the retrieved items, which give an invaluable insight into life on board – everything from combs to wooden barrels for preserving food supplies. There are reconstructions of life on board, detailed models of the Vasa, displays relating to contemporary social and political life, and a fascinating film of the rescue operation; between June and August there are also hourly English-language guided tours, which run less frequently at other times of the year.