January 25, 2014

The Vasa Museum

The prow of the Vasa.
Working as a Concierge, I get asked one question over and over again... "What should we not miss when we are in Stockholm?". While there are many things I think people visiting Stockholm should definitely see (like Gamla Stan, Fotografiska, Djurgården, the Archipelago, Östermalms Saluhall and more), my #1 answer to that question is The Vasa Museum. I did write about the museum way back in 2010 when I first started this blog, but it is time for an update.
Entrance to the museum with tell tale masts sticking up through the roof.
The museum is built around the royal warship Vasa, which sank in 1628 while leaving Stockholm harbour on her maiden voyage. Sometimes I notice guests' eyes glazing over as I explain this... often with the comment "Oh, we aren't interested in boats". But this really is much more than just a boat. To start off with, the Vasa lay on the bottom of Stockholm harbour for 333 years, remaining amazingly intact and in surprisingly good condition, before being salvaged in 1961. Its condition is mainly due to the fact that the cold, brackish water of the Baltic kept away shipworms which usually destroy wooden ships in warmer, saltier seas. A jaw dropping 95% of what you see today is the original ship.
Model depicting how the Vasa looked when launched.
It is magnificently huge! Walking in to the museum, the ship (69 meters long and 52 meters high) will take your breath away. The condition of the ship also means that a lot of the detailed wood/artwork can still be viewed and enjoyed. But what really makes this museum special, in my opinion, is how informative and well planned out it is.
Ornamental detail.
Visitors can view the ship, top to bottom, from the museum's 7 floors. There are several informative exhibitions spread out on the different floors... like what the ornaments and decorations symbolized, what life on board was like, how the ship was salvaged and how the ship functioned in a naval battle. One of my favorite exhibitions there is "Face to Face". Several skeletons were found on or near the ship and through modern forensic science we are able to know quite a lot about the people who sailed on the Vasa (appearance, diet, sickness and general lifestyle).
Size perspective... see the people in the bottom left-hand corner?
The museum was recently expanded as it was originally built to take 600,000 visitors a year and now sees more than 1.2 million visitors a year! Part of this expansion is a new exhibition room on the ground floor. I saw it now for the first time when I took my visiting father to the museum last week. Entitled "Meanwhile", this high-tech, interactive exhibition takes a look at what else was happening in the world during the time of the Vasa (early 1600's). Did you know that Barbary pirates from Morocco abducted about 400 people from Iceland in two different raids in 1627? I found it very interesting and it did help to put the Vasa sinking into an historic perspective.
Part of the new exhibition "Meanwhile".
So... don't miss this amazing and very unique museum when visiting Stockholm! Located on the island of Djurgården, it is easy to get to from the Rival Hotel. There are regular ferries (Djurgård ferry) going between nearby Slussen and Djurgården and the trip just takes 10 minutes. Open 7 days a week, entrance is 130 SEK and free for children up to the age of 18 and for holders of the Stockholm Card.
Vasa's stern.

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