A faithful contract
The Lion of the North, Gustav II Adolf, is building Sweden into one of the most feared powers in Europe. In January 1625, the Swedish king signs a contract with the Dutch master shipwright Henrik Hybertsson and his business partner, Arendt de Groote. They are to build four new ships. One of them, Vasa, is to be the most powerful warship in the Baltic, if not the world. It is the beginning of one of the most spectacular fiascos in Swedish history.
Continue to 1626
The master of shipwright fades away
Vasa´s keel is laid in the late winter at Skeppsgården, the navy yard, in Stockholm. Master Henrik Hybertsson, already ill when construction starts, can no longer supervise the other shipwrights by the summer and has to hand over responsibility for the new ship to his assistant, Hein Jakobsson. Barely a year later, Vasa´s designer is dead.
Continue to 1627
The machine of war is launched
The king´s newest and most powerful ship, Vasa, is launched in the spring and hundreds of craftsmen work through the summer to finish the hull and rigging. When completed, it is 69 metres long and more than 50 metres tall from the keel to the top of the main mast. The ship weighs over 1200 tonnes once outfitted with ten sails, 64 cannons, 120 tonnes of ballast and hundreds of sculptures. A giant of a ship of its time is born.
Continue to Summer 1628
The admiral does not listen to the warning bells
The captain supervising the construction of Vasa, Söfring Hansson, calls Vice Admiral Klas Fleming down to the ship, moored at the royal palace, because he is worried. He has thirty men run back and forth across the deck and the ship rolls alarmingly. The Admiral has the demonstration stopped, afraid the ship will sink at the quay. Under pressure from the king to get the ship to sea, he orders Söfring to sail anyway. Months later, Vasa sets off on its first and last voyage.
Continue to 10 August 1628
10 August 1628
The shortest maiden voyage in history?
1,300 metres and no farther. Still within sight of the shipyard where it was built, Vasa heels to port under a gust and water gushes in through the open gun-ports. Within minutes, the ship is lying on the sea bed 32 metres below. Thousands of Stockholm´s inhabitants witness the tragic scene, together with several foreign ambassadors. What began in hope and ambition ends in tragedy.
Continue to Autumn 1628
The perfect scapegoat
A fearful Royal Council writes to tell the king of the disaster. An inquest is launched. The ship´s officers claim innocence. The builders are adamant that they built the ship according to the design the king approved. The experts believe the ship had too little belly, not enough hull to carry the heavy upper works. The blame falls on the designer, Henrik Hybertsson, for the poor proportions. Master Henrik, dead more than a year, cannot defend himself and does not need to be punished.
Continue to 1663-1665
Fishing for cannons
The sunken ship is a tempting target for salvors and assorted chancers. Repeated attempts to raise the ship fail; it is firmly stuck in the mud of the harbour bottom. Finally, 35 years after the sinking, a team of divers led by Albrecht von Treileben and Andreas Peckell succeed in bringing up almost all of Vasa´s cannons. They use a recently perfected invention, the diving bell, to reach the ship, rip up the deck, and extract guns, which are sold abroad.
Continue to 1920
Vasa is nearly turned into furniture
Two brothers from Oskarshamn, Simon and Leonard Olschanski, apply for permission to salvage ships sunk in Stockholm harbour between Beckholmen, where Vasa lies, and Tegelviken. They plan to blow up the wrecks to get black oak, waterlogged wood, which is popular in Sweden for Art Deco furniture. But the authorities say no - a crucial decision that makes it possible for the Vasa Museum to exist today.
Continue to August 1956
Anders Franzén gets a bite
The calendar shows 25 August 1956 when Anders Franzén, a fuels engineer, finally gets a bite. Dark winter days poring over old documents in dusty archives, rainy summer days dragging the bottom of Stockholm harbour, have led to this. After his drag has once again caught an obstruction on the bottom, his coring device has returned to the surface with a plug of black, waterlogged oak. Another core 20 meters away produces the same result. There is something big, old and wooden on the bottom in front of the island of Beckholmen. Franzén has enough evidence to persuade the navy to send a diving team to investigate. Could it be Vasa?
Continue to September 1958
Swedish radio interrupts its regular programming and broadcasts direct from the salvage operation when one of Vasa's cannon is brought up from the deep. Each new find, each twist and turn in the saga of raising the ship is a news story. Vasa emerges on the international stage as a celebrity, and Per Edvin Fälting becomes a media hero, a tough, no-nonsense dive boss, everyman getting the job done.
Continue to August 1959
Vasa moves for the first time in 331 years
The proposals are many and imaginative, everything from filling Vasa with ping-pong balls to freezing it in a giant ice-cube. But the Neptune Company insists on a tried-and-tested method, used since the Middle Ages to raise sunken ships. Divers have spent more than two years digging tunnels and passing cables under the ship up to floating pontoons. On 20 August 1959, the pumps start in the pontoons and Vasa frees itself from the mud. The ship is lifted and moved under the water surface in 18 stages, and in September Vasa lies at a depth of 17 metres by the island of Kastellholmen. Divers will spend another year and a half preparing the ship for the final lift.
Continue to April 1961
The end of a long beauty sleep
Many Stockholm residents probably remember that it was Monday, 24 April 1961. People by the thousands are crowded in with Swedish and international media around Kastellholmen when Vasa first appears from the deep after 333 years of hibernation. A ship from the 17th century is headline material in newspapers around the world.
Continue to February 1962
Vasa meets the public
By Friday 16 February 1962, the ship is ready to be displayed to the general public at the newly-constructed Wasa Shipyard, where visitors can see Vasa while a team of conservators, carpenters and other technicians work to preserve the ship. The museum opens with a salute from two of Vasa's cannon. Public interest is enormous and success is immediate – in 1962, 439,300 buy a ticket to see the ship and its unique finds.
Continue to April 1962
Operation Preserve Vasa
Reconstructing and preserving a mighty warship from the 17th century is an enormous challenge. When waterlogged wood dries out, and the moisture in it evaporates, it shrinks and cracks. In order to prevent Vasa from being destroyed, conservation of the ship begins using polyethylene glycol, PEG, to replace the water. Loose objects are placed in large baths, while the hull of the ship is sprayed around the clock with the help of 500 nozzles and an elaborate pumping and filtering system. This treatment will continue until 1979.
Continue to 1979-1989
Some things just take time. Even after being sprayed for 17 years, the ship has a long way to go. The wood has to dry slowly to avoid cracking, and over the next ten years the humidity is gradually lowered. In fact, drying will go on for decades until the ship stabilizes completely.
Continue to 1990
Vasa gets a new home
384 proposals from all over the Nordic countries are received when an architectural competition to build the new Vasa Museum is launched in 1981. Swedish architects Hidemark Månsson Arkitektkontor AB wins against tough competition and, on 15 June 1990, the new museum is officiallt opened. The ship is the centrepiece of themed exhibits about all aspects of naval life in the early 17th century.
Continue to 2000
In summer 2000, the weather is terrible, with nearly constant rain. Tens of thousands of wet visitors raise the humidity in the museum, and it swings wildly during each day as the overworked climate plant tries to catch up. Then alarm bells ring for the conservation staff: yellow and white spots appear on the ship and many of the artefacts. These suggest that the high humidity is combining with sulphur in the wood to produce destructive acids. Media reports trumpet that the ship is in danger of dissolving away before the visitors' eyes. The immediate solution is an entirely new, state-of-the-art climate plant, on line in 2004, and the launch of an international research project to understand what is happening in the wood and correct it.
Continue to 2011
50th anniversary and record visitor numbers
Tourists make the pilgrimage when Vasa celebrates the 50th anniversary of its recovery from the depths. The Vasa Museum sets a new record with well over 1.2 million visitors. After half a century of conservation and restoration work, the success of Vasa is easy to understand: it is unique, an intact ship from a forgotten time. Over 98% of the original structure survives, including masts and sails, so it does not look like a wreck, but a ship awaiting the start of the next voyage, just as Vasa looked in the winter of 1628.
Continue to 2015
Entry into the world´s top 10 attractions
As the only Swedish entry, the Vasa Museum, in ninth place makes it onto the top 10 list of the world´s best museums according to TripAdvisor, the world´s largest travel site.
Continue to 2014
The roar of battle
In 2013, an exact copy of one of Vasa's cannon is cast at Tierps Jernbruk. A year later, after building a replica section of Vasa as a target, researchers test fire the gun over 50 times. They discover that the cannon has an potential range of over 1000 meters, but the rolling of the ship would make it impossible to hit anything at that distance, so actual combat range was probably less than 500 meters. The shot travel at velocities up to and over the speed of sound, and every shot fired at the ship side punches a hole completely through up to 80 cm of solid oak.
Continue to 2018
It took seven years to replace her 4,000 rusty iron bolts, but Vasa is in much better shape for it. Now eight tons lighter and with new steel bolts highly resistant to corrosion reducing the risk of chemical reactions in the wood, Vasa is expected to last for many years to come.