On Sunday, 10 August 1628, the Vasa ship left her mooring below the royal castle Tre Kronor in Stockholm, Sweden, and sailed off on her maiden voyage. Many spectators along the Stockholm quays witnessed how four sails were set and heard the salute of the guns. Suddenly a gust of wind toppled the enormous warship over, sending it down 32 metres below the waters outside Tegelviken in the capital’s harbour. Now she is the world's best preserved 16th century ship.
The ship was bound for the summer naval base Älvsnabben in Stockholm’s southern archipelago, where roughly 300 soldiers were waiting to board. Between 150 and 250 men and women were on board when Vasa sank, including invited family members of the crew who would be sent ashore when the ship first anchored for the night in Vaxholm. About 30 people died.
The Vasa ship was built at the shipyard Skeppsgården in Stockholm. The client was King Gustav II Adolf. The keel was laid down in 1625 and the ship launched in the spring of 1627. The ship builder was the Dutchman Henrik Hybertsson, who was responsible for the entire shipyard. But he died before the Vasa was finished being built, and management of the shipyard was transferred to his widow, Margareta Nilsdotter.
The Vasa was fitted with 64 bronze guns, of which 48 were 24-pound guns weighing about 1,200 kilograms each. She had three masts with a total of ten sails, and more than 700 carved wooden sculptures and ornaments. The many cannons were placed on the top decks, making the centre of gravity low and contributing to the ship’s capsizing.
The ongoing war between Sweden and Poland was being fought on the other side of the Baltic Sea. The large Swedish field army in Prussia (in present-day Germany) needed a supply of soldiers, materiel and other necessities from back home. One of the most important missions of the fleet was to secure these shipments and to block Polish ports. This probably would have also been the first main undertaking of Vasa.
Anders Franzén, an expert on shipwrecks from the 16th and 17th centuries, was the person who rediscovered the Vasa and acted as the driving force behind the salvage operation in 1961, after the ship had remained on the bottom of Stockholm’s waters for 333 years. After the salvage was completed, the ship was placed in King Gustav V’s dock on the island of Beckholmen. The dig was done quickly, and as early as 1962 the provisional the Wasa Shipyard, later to become the Vasa Museum, was opened. There, the hull and all individual finds were preserved for 17 years. In December 1988, the Vasa was towed on a pontoon into the purpose-built Vasa Museum on Djurgården in Stockholm, which was inaugurated in June 1990.
Preservation efforts have resumed since the work carried out during the 1960s and 1970s, and continues even to this day. Many changes have taken place during recent decades. The climate inside the museum has been adapted over time, the bolts in the hull have been replaced with stainless steel bolts, and Vasa will soon get a new supporting structure that provides better relief for the hull than does its current cradle. Regular measurements are taken to detect any movement in the ship.
The Vasa Museum is today visited by 1.5 million people each year, and since the days it was salvaged more than 40 million visitors have seen the mighty Vasa.