Friday 10 August 2018

Wrecked in Stockholm: The Fatal Voyage of the Vasa

As much as I love history, I don't make a beeline for historical museums when I'm visiting a new city.

As a travel writer I need new or under-explored attractions to write about; and chances are, a long-established historical museum will either be overexposed or a bit dull.

So I reluctantly set time aside to visit the Vasa Museum when I visited Stockholm, Sweden in 2012. It had been open since 1990, after all, and housed a ship that was almost 300 years old.

But I'm glad I did go. It was magnificent.

Here's the story. On 10 August 1628 the splendid new warship Vasa set sail on its maiden voyage, crowds cheering it from the docks.

It managed to cover a full 1300 metres out from Stockholm when it keeled over and sank.

Awkward. Especially since the Vasa was headed to the war raging between Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth was Eastern Europe's great power of the time, covering a million square kilometres from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and this was the fourth conflict in a row between the rival Baltic kingdoms.

Seventeenth-century Sweden's loss was our gain, however. Surprisingly well-preserved by the brackish conditions of the Baltic, the ship was rediscovered and salvaged in 1961. After decades of treatment, it was installed in its current home.

Walking around its hull in dim light, peering at it from different angles, it was easy to imagine it was the 17th century again and the Vasa about to undertake its disastrous first voyage.

I recommend a visit to the museum if you're ever in Sweden.

Which goes to show, you should never write off a history museum because the subject sounds a bit, er, dry.

The Vasa Museum is located at Galärvarvsvägen 14, Stockholm. Find opening hours and entry fees at its website.

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