Charlotte Notteghem’s beautiful documentary traces the history of this Swedish ship which sank in 1628, during the Thirty Years’ War, before being recovered in 1961. Vasa, the ghost galleona film not to be missed this Saturday, December 2 at 8:50 p.m. on Arte and available on Arte.TV.
It was August 10, 1628. In Stockholm, the Vasa, the most majestic galleon in the world casts off for its maiden voyage. The crowd is gathered on the quays. The sea is calm, but it sinks eighteen minutes later. Very quickly, we only see its masts slightly protruding from the waves. Luckily, unlike sailors used to crossing oceans, those from the Baltic know how to swim. For the kingdom and its king, Gustavus II Adolphe, the humiliation was total. Three centuries later, on April 24, 1961, the ghost ship emerged from the waves near the Royal Palace in the city. Divers, maritime archaeologists, found it exceptionally well preserved, because it was buried in the mud.
Kept in Stockholm
Along with Tutankhamun’s treasure, Lascaux and the ornate underwater Cosquer cave, the Vasa is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Preserved in Stockholm on the island of Djurgarden, a stone’s throw from the Abba Museum, in a humidified setting immersed in darkness, the Vasa fascinates. The galleon has become the biggest tourist attraction in the reindeer kingdom. This is normal: when you push the doors open, the effect is immediately spectacular. The wreck is striking at first by its immensity. The rear hull is twenty meters high! In addition to the lion’s prow and the two cannon bridges, you should pay attention to the 700 statues once covered in gold and dazzling colors. At the back, the king leans on figures representing the Swedish people, including a little chubby peasant girl. A sign that he is not afraid of anything, the sovereign dominates King David who defeated Goliath. Behind wooden bars, two groveling mustachioed men are ridiculed. They represent Poles.
With the Vasa, Gustav II Adolphe, who was Lutheran, displayed his power and justified his war against his cousin the Catholic King Sigismund of Poland and Lithuania. Europe is plunged into the Thirty Years’ War. Sweden is poor, lagging behind and struggling to develop. Gustav II Adolphe wanted to make it one of the first European powers. If the Spanish and the French dominate in the south of Europe, he intends to conquer the Baltic countries, Poland, Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony. His most armed ship in the world must help him dominate the Baltic Sea. In fact, a Swedish inland sea. At the time, naval battles moved from boarding to cannonry. The king demands the ultimate but the naval architects are not yet ready. A deck of cannons, they know how to do the right stability calculations. A second bridge also filled with cannons is something else.
With the weight of artillery pieces and cannonballs which weigh ten kilos each, the boats become heavier. For Vasa, the double bridge is a disaster. The investigation launched immediately after the shipwreck reached the same conclusion as that of researchers today: for fear of the king, those close to him did not dare to tell him that designing and building the first boat of this kind too quickly would lead to a disaster.
The daily life of the time
To tell the fascinating fate of the ship, the director of the documentary Vasa, the Ghost Galleon, Charlotte Notteghem, films the beauty of the Stockholm archipelago with drones. As the boats full of tourists leave Gamla Stan (the old town) towards the archipelago offshore, we dive right next to it with the archaeologists. Their research is not obvious, we see nothing there. Today, they will return empty-handed but they remain hopeful of finding a missing cannon. The 17th century scenes in 2D would have benefited from being more animated. In the second part, the director looks at the objects found and what they teach us about daily life at the time. Even today in Stockholm, treasures from Vasa are brought to the surface. Already broadcast in Sweden, this extraordinary adventure has achieved record audiences. For such a Nordic subject but produced by French people based in Strasbourg and Lyon, it’s a nice compliment