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Giant, Lusitania and Arizona. These names mostly come to mind when thinking of ships that met a tragic end, but the Swedish battleship Vasa is not easily remembered. Vasa was a brightly coloured marine design attraction commissioned by the Swedish monarchy under Gustavus Adolf II in the early 17th century. It was designed by skilled shipbuilder Henrik Hibertsson and was originally intended to carry 36 cannons. However, the Swedish king demanded aesthetic perfection in exchange for the ship's stability.

On 10 August 1628 when she set out on her maiden voyage from the castle fortress at Vaxholm, Vasa was loaded with heavy ornamental decorations and 64 bronze cannons. What appeared to be a relatively calm sailing day turned into a disaster.

Vasa departed between 4 and 5 pm to cheers from family and friends, and the Swedish monarchy stood among those waiting for their naval investment. Unfortunately, after being tossed by one trade wind, a second gust struck her ship's sails, sending the massive warship  into the water. Given time, Hibertsson was unable to calculate the vessel's stability under the additional weight, resulting in an incredibly unbalanced vessel with her centre of gravity so high above the water.
Archaeologists examining the wreck, which is remarkably intact, believe  King Gustav's aesthetic choices directly contributed to the ship's sinking. Fortunately, only 30 of the ship's crew were killed that day, but the maritime disaster would plague the Swedish Empire for centuries. As for the ship itself, the extremely cold waters of the Baltic Sea protected it from harmful bacteria that would otherwise ruin the hull. When Sweden finally recovered the ship from its resting place in 1961, about 95% of the ship remained intact, making for a very rare archaeological opportunity.
The ship is now on display at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, and boasts the world's only perfectly preserved 17th-century ship. It took a team of conservatives 30 years to carefully lift the ship out of the icy waters to prepare it for public display. Thanks to their precise work, we can see remnants of lavishly painted lions and coats of arms on the ship's transom, as well as unique artifacts of the time  that survived the shipwreck. Visit the Vasa Museum website to learn about openings and purchase tickets.

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