Inspiration and Lore to be found at the Maritime Museum
Pictured below is artwork from the free (yes free!) Maritime Museum in downtown Stockholm. The paintings evoke the words of a poem by Carl Sanburg, Young Sea,
If you’re at all like me, water, be it the ocean, lake, river, or even a puddle…what could be more irresistible…holds an allure that is hard to explain. Though our relationship to the sea has changed over the centuries, this museum, with it’s interactive, kid-friendly exhibits, does a remarkable job of transporting you back in time; back to when seas were highways to places exotic, back when humankind depended upon oceans for travel, trade and best of all, adventure.
There are a lot of ships to explore at the museum (3 astounding floors full), but none quite so grand as the Amphion. Named after a Greek God, it was built in 1778 for King Gustav the III. A renaissance man, he was an “enlightened” king, who loved the arts, philosophy, science and large sailing vessels. He commissioned the Amphion for his own personal use, both for pleasure outings and military engagements. Unfortunately, as with other lavish vessels engineered more for show and comfort, the ship on its first voyage out 200 nautical miles from Stockholm, almost capsized. It meant days of getting back to shore, the king and his sailors eating only pea soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the Amphion being forever known by the assessment, “She sails like a gilt clog.”
As lovely as it was awkward to maneuver, the Amphion was the command post for Gustav III during the two-year war against Russia. (Mind you, there is nowhere in the museum that will tell you Gustav III initiated the attack, for that you’ll need Wikipedia). Why did he do it? Well…for political gain and all the other obvious reasons for destroying another country’s navy. His assumption of an easy victory couldn’t have been more wrong. In the battle of Viborg Bay, Russian forces had the entire Swedish navy trapped. When it looked as though all hope was lost, the general ordered the Amphion to be burned so as to avoid it being captured by the Russians and becoming a war trophy.
Thankfully, the order was disobeyed because shortly after that, the Swedes broke through the Russian line, obliterated the Russian navy, and in a decisive victory at Svensksund left the Russians begging for a peace treaty (at least that’s the Swedish version of the facts).
But with 20,000 Swedes killed, and political enemies spread far and wide, it’s no big surprise Gustav III was assassinated two years later during a night at the Opera. Yes, well, he’d taken power in a coup d’état (those things never last). He was the first head of state (of a country not involved in the Revolutionary War) to recognize the United States of America, for that we will give him credit. With Gustav III gone, the Amphion went on to become an Admiral’s vessel. Not long after that, it was a quarantine vessel for cholera patients, then a lodging ship in the Stockholm archipelago, later a barracks in the shipyard. When it had finally exhausted its usefulness, the Amphion was broken up into the pieces you see pictured here, stored and forty or so years later, used in the architecture of the Maritime Museum.
If you have kids along there is a fantastic (best I’ve seen in a Stockholm Museum) play area for children on the lower level. A ship they can climb on, a lighthouse with a secret passage, even a fish monger’s shack.