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A new museum dedicated to the royal flagship Gribshunden

Local officials in Ronneby, on the southeast coast of Sweden, have given permission to build a new museum dedicated to Gribshunden, the flagship of King Hans of Denmark, which sank off Ronneby in 1495. Although the municipality has decided on the location for the museum, much remains to be done before visitors will be able to learn more about this story and view objects from one of the world’s best preserved wrecks from the 1400s.

Fans of maritime archaeology and history have shown great interest in the investigations and excavations of the Gribshunden shipwreck. This is especially true outside of Sweden since the ship was contemporary with the ships of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama – which remain undiscovered to this day. For several years now, the objects that have been uncovered have been studied in an international research project led by Blekinge County Museum and Lund University.

Ronneby municipality gives the go-ahead

The ship is not yet well known to the public, but that is about to change. Ronneby municipality recently decided that a museum for Gribshunden will be built in the city’s central district, on the site of a fire station that will be relocated. Construction of the museum is estimated to cost 300–500 million kronor.

“We’re incredibly happy,” says Anders Engblom, project manager for Gribshunden – The Dream of a Museum. “Now a new phase of the project will begin.”

The project office

Building a museum in Ronneby has long been a goal. The wreck of Gribshunden was discovered back in the 1960s by sport divers, and Blekinge County Museum and Ronneby Municipality entered into an agreement in 2015. A project office was set up in Kallvattenkuren, a historic bathhouse in the middle of Ronneby’s Brunnsparken park. The park is currently home to various exhibitions and the project office.

“Since the opening of the bathhouse, it has welcomed more than 25,000 visitors – a number I’m really pleased with,” Engblom says. “We now mainly want to spark more interest and engage in dialogue with the local population.”

The project already runs educational activities for schoolchildren in the municipality, where they learn about the history of the district and have their say about plans for the museum.

“Local and regional acceptance is important,” he says.

How to build a museum

The project is now focusing on the future. It is fine-tuning its marketing and branding efforts and shaping the story of the wreck and its location. Funding also needs to be secured.

“We think it will be hard for the public to finance the museum, so we hope to get businesses and philanthropists on board to support a museum about a spectacular, unique wreck,” he says.

For several years, the non-profit association Gribshundens Vänner has been shaping public opinion about the museum. Peter Althin, a lawyer with roots in the area, is chairman.

An international destination

Because King Hans was Danish, and because people from across the world are interested in a ship that resembles those of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gamas, the hope is that the museum will become a major tourist attraction.

“We’ve been on an inspirational trip to places like the Museum of Wrecks, Mariehamn’s maritime museum and the Jelling Experience Centre in Veijle municipality,” Engblom says.

During the Middle Ages, Ronneby was the most important trading centre after Malmö in eastern Denmark, which Scania and Blekinge belonged to at the time. It’s no coincidence then that King Hans’ ship docked there in 1495. In other words, much of Ronneby’s history is closely intertwined with the ship.

Dives and history

The 2022 survey of the wreck focused on the ship’s construction, especially the over six-metre-long rudder.

Gribshunden gets its name from the grinning hound-like figurehead who once adorned King Hans’ ship as he sailed to Kalmar to become King of Sweden. But a fire broke out near Ronneby and the ship sank. King Hans survived and made his way to Kalmar two years later to be crowned King John II of Sweden (1497–1501).

2019 excavations (in Swedish, with summary in English):