They came to the harbor by the hundreds. Lining the shore, the people cheered and waved as the massive ship sailed away on her maiden voyage. The vessel was a source of pride for her country; a symbol of power and prestige. And then, not long after, she lay on the sea floor; a maritime disaster.
The Titanic? No, it was the Swedish warship Vasa which sailed from Stockholm in 1628, nearly 300 years before the Titanic became another seafaring tragedy.
The Vasa was all but forgotten until rediscovered in the late 1950s. Since then the ship has been salvaged from her brackish watery grave and resurrected nearly intact. The Vasa was raised in 1961 and housed in a temporary building until 1987 when her permanent home was completed – it has become one of Sweden’s most popular attractions.
The Vasa was huge for its time: 226 feet in length. Its fatal flaw was insufficient ballast and ornate carvings that decorated the hull, glorifying Sweden’s authority and extolling the prowess of their monarch, King Gustavus Adolphus. Nearly 500 sculptures decorated the ship, which also added considerably to the weight.
The polluted waters of Stockholm’s harbor in the 1630s killed off micro-organisms that would normally cause the wood to decompose. Consistently cold temperatures combined with the brackish water meant that shipworms were non-existent.
Today Sweden is a peace-loving environmental paradise that may be one of the best-kept tourism secrets in Europe. But during the early part of the 17th century until 1718, she was regarded as the most dominant power in the Baltic.
The warship Vasa hearkens to Sweden’s turbulent bygone days, bringing travelers a snapshot of life four hundred years ago. When she sank in 1628, it was a major setback for king and country.
Unlike her 20th century counterpart, the Titanic, the Vasa has been preserved for anyone who wishes to experience a fascinating glimpse into the past.
Truly the discovery of the Vasa was an event of “Titanic” proportions. Details: www.vasamuseet.se/en.
Info on visiting Sweden: www.visitsweden.com.