Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Wasa: more than just crisp bread

You’re probably familiar with Wasa crisp bread – Knäckebröd in Swedish. It’s a flat and dry type of bread or cracker, mainly made of rye flour. For a long time it was considered as the poor man’s diet. However, it has become increasingly popular again now that people for different reasons – health or body weight - are looking for low-fat and low-calorie diets.

Originally, however, Wasa had nothing to do with bread or even food in general. Gustav Ist was the first member of the influental Wasa family, to become king of Sweden in the 16sth century. One of his descendents, Gustav Adolphus Wasa, who ruled Sweden in the 17th century, was a bit of a warmonger. He liked to spend money by having always bigger and more powerful battleships built. On August 10th, 1628 his latest war toy Wasa, appropriately named after his royal highness himself, left Stockholm’s shipyard on her maiden voyage.

Now if you thought that the Titanic held the record of the shortest maiden trip ever, you are mistaken. As the Wasa sailed less than a nautical mile (approx. 2 km) before it capsized and sank! Wasa was built top-heavy and had insufficient ballast. As soon as the ship’s sails caught the wind, it leaned over. To show off the gun power of the ship, the captain had ordered to open all the canon ports, even those on the lower decks, through which the water came rushing in as soon as the ship made his heavy tilt.

Later in the 17th century most of the ship’s valuable bronze canons were salvaged. The ship itself fell into oblivion, until 1950 when it was discovered as it was smack in the middle of a busy shipping lane. But it would take till April 24th, 1961 before the wooden hull was salvaged. It was almost intact! From 1961 till 1987 the hull was housed in a temporary museum where it was constantly sprayed with different chemicals to preserve the wood.

The stern of the Wasa.

This is where I saw the Wasa in 1977. Actually, I didn’t see that much as it was partly hidden behind scaffolding. The tour – it wasn’t guided - led along some dodgy foot bridges which were at a safe distance from the actual ship and the nozzles spraying the chemicals. Nevertheless, it was an impressive sight. Somehow it felt like going back in time. The whole structure was dimly lit and the only sound to be heard was the dripping of the water. It felt as if it had just been lifted from the seabed. The best part was undoubtedly the artfully carved stern, which had already been restored to its former glory. I think it respresents the gilded arms of the house of Wasa.

In 1987 the ship was ready to me moved to the current Vasa (or Wasa, both are correct) Museum, which over the last half a century has become Sweden’s most popular tourist attraction. Since 1961 more than 28 million visitors have come to see the Wasa. And I am one of them! If you ever visit Stockholm, you absolutely must go and see it.

Note: I got most of the historic data from Wikipedia. The rest is of my own personal perception/interpretation and therefore not necessarily historically correct.



Susan said...

The Swedish Mary Rose! (Henry VIII's flagship which sank before it got out of harbour and can now be seen at Portsmouth)

ladybird said...

Susan, Thank you for telling me about the Mary Rose. I 'googled' it and found out that the stories are very similar indeed. The main difference lies in the fact that the Mary Rose was not brand new when it sank. It had been refitted after 33 years of service. According to Wikipedia the sinking was due to the refitting, the gun ports being open allowing the water to rush in and a sudden gust of wind (like the Wasa).

And then I found this interesting and recently published (Nov. 2008)article:

Wonder how old Henry (VIII) feels now that the truth is out! :)

pilvikki said...

just came across this while looking up wasa stuff. thought you might it amusing to hear that i actually was on the ship...
yes, in 1966 hubby, daughter and i wandered around the ship wondering where all the "furniture" was.
it was very wet then, too.
thanks for the reminder and
greeting from france!