The "Vasa" and her Museum

I almost was ready to admit defeat. Because for so long I actually really wanted to write a longish post about the Vasa and the museum and why I enjoyed my third (or even fourth?) visit to the museum so much, when I was in Stockholm in August. But whenever I start to try and write this post I never find the right grip on how to write it. I’d love to recount the whole incredible story of the Vasa, her sinking, the salvage and restauration. But then I always realize that this has been told so much more eloquently already on the museum’s website or on wikipedia and anywhere else online.

I decided to just write down a few random thoughts and to put these up with a collection of pictures. Even these random thougths turned into a pretty long post, so I don’t want to imagine, what this would have looked like, had I been able to actually write down ALL of what I originally had intended ;-)

The Vasa is a large ship and still most impressive to me is, that it was salvaged in the first place and that the whole ship is on display. The whole freaking ship in one piece.

Vasa Museum, Lobby
The Vasa

The Vasa
You can even almost walk under it. Well, that’s not quite allowed but you can walk along the keel and look under it.

Keel of Vasa

The water in the harbour, where the Vasa sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628 was dirty and disgusting (because ther was on sewer system back then), but that actually helped with conserving the ship on the ground, because there wasn’t enough oxygen for the ship worm anc bacteria gnaws on the wood in the water. Once they managed to get the wreck up in one piece from the bottom of the sea and to move it into a temporary building (which was a endeavour in itself) 333 years later the big question was, how to preserve this large wooden ship.

They ended up spraying it with synthetic polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG) to replace the water in the wood with this synthetic wax and thus keep the wood from splintering, breaking and falling apart. The spray treatment lasted for over 17 years and after it was followed by 9 years of slow drying. That’s 26 years before they could even think about showing the Vasa to the public! Well, of course public exhibition always has been the plan, so while the Vasa was sprayed with PEG, a museum was build and in the late 1980s Vasa moved into the half-completed building. The ship had to be pulled of course but it did still float on its own. Once the ship was safely docked and actually had the support structure put under it, the water was drained and the rest of museum was build around it. I still regret not taking a picture of the museum from the outside or even a bit farther away. It’s such a unique building.

A lot of other work was done on the ship and the thousands of objects that were salvaged with it, to preserve it. But it’s a on-going process. When the Vasa was salvaged in the 1960s they replaced the old iron bolts with new ones. But after a while they realized that these have to be replaced with something more durable and less sensitive for temperatures and humidity than iron. These new bolts are made of some synthetic material and quite expensive, so the process will take some time. And these bolts are large, so it’s not wonder it’s expensive to make them from some special synthetic material. And there are like 5000 of them inside the ship’s structure…

Iron and synthetic bolts

Equally dangerous for the ship actually are the heat and humidity, which the visitors give off during there visit. This also slowly but inexorably adds to decomposing of the Vasa. The museum is working on a better circulation and air condition system and all. But I never even thought about these dangers for the Vasa. There is a thermal camera in that section of the museum to ilustrate that problem…

Thermal Camera

Around 95% of the wooden hull, railing, masts, sculptures and such could be preserved with the PEG spray treatment. Whenever a piece had to be replaced with new wood, they used wood with a smooth and light (in color) surface, to distinguish it from the original ship. New wooden piece can be seen in the top right corner of this photo…

The Vasa

Most fascinating for me at this visit was the 1/10 scale model and it’s bright colours.

Vasa and her 1/10 scale model1/10 scale model of Vasa
1/10 scale model of Vasa

I didn’t remember that from my previous visits and neither the whole exhibition on the sculptures and colours. There are quite a few replicas of the original sculptures and they even managed to analyze the paint that was used and with this found out which colours were actually used. There is a whole section about that in the museum…

Colors of the VasaReplica of Vasa Sculpture
And there a so many more detailed exhibitions on so many different topics. I could have spend a whole day, if I had had the museum to myself. Which sadly, I didn’t. But it was definitely worth every minute of the visit and I’ll be back someday, I know that much :-)

All of these and a few more photos of my visit can be found in this ipernity album or this slide show.

1 Comment

  1. Very informational post you got here! I am planning to visit Vasa Museum soon, and I found your post to be really helpful! Thanks for this! :)

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