- The Maritime Museum was opened in 1938
- It was designed by the author of Stockholm City Hall, Ragnar Östberg
- Funding for the museum was conditioned on it not being built in the functionalist style
- Gustav III’s pleasure yacht Amphion is displayed in the Museum
When you decide to take a walk around the northern shores of the Djurgårdsbrunnsviken bay in Stockholm, you will soon find yourself at Museiparken, an area filled with museums. Likely the most notable structure there, and the first one you will see when arriving from the city centre, is the unique building of the Maritime Museum (Sjöhistoriska museet) that we discover in this post.
Public interest in maritime technology and its history increased hand-in-hand with its rapid evolution during the 19th and 20th century. It was only logical then that the discussion about building a permanent maritime museum in Stockholm got traction after the 1897 Stockholm Exhibition where numerous exhibits from existing collections were showcased.
At the time, the collections consisted mostly of ship models, flags, drawings, maps, and books with the oldest of these artefacts dating from the 16th century. Following the initiative of highly-ranked officials, the objects were made available to the public again ten years later, this time in the premises of the Arvfurstens Palace at Gustav Adolf’s Square (Gustav Adolfs torg).
The decision to found a dedicated museum was made at the first meeting of the newly formed Association for Swedish Maritime Museums in 1913. Skeppsbron, the street stretching along the eastern edge of Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla stan), was selected to become the home of the first maritime museum in Stockholm.
As years were passing, the exhibition moved to another location on the same street and then, in 1928, it took over the building left empty by the Old Forest Institute located in Nobelparken in the Östermalm district.
Since that is not the current location of the Maritime Museum, you can easily guess that this was not the last change the organisation has gone through.
The authorities had been discussing the idea of merging the Maritime Museum with the Naval Museum under one roof for some time before Hans Ericson, the president of the association behind these museums, managed to involve the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in the process.
Eventually, in 1931, the Foundation agreed to contribute 800,000SEK to the construction of a new museum under the following conditions. First, the state had to provide a site for the museum to be built on. Second, the remaining parts of Gustav III’s Amphion must be displayed permanently in a prominent location in the museum and lastly, the Foundation specifically forbade the museum from being built in the functionalist style.
The story of Amphion
Amphion was completed in 1778 as King Gustav III’s exclusive pleasure yacht. It was a 33.5-metre-long and 7-metre-wide floating beauty with the interior inspired by the renowned French Palace of Versailles, which was only equipped with a few small cannons or swivel guns used for firing salutes.
It was, however, difficult to sail and was very close to ending up just like the famous Vasa Ship. After it almost sunk on the king’s first trip, Gustav III decided to complete the journey by horse and carriage. The ship survived, though, to witness Sweden’s biggest victory on the sea in the Battle of Svensksund against the Russians two years later.
As these conditions were non-negotiable, the Swedish Parliament (Sveriges Riksdag) decided that the government would adhere to the requirements and accepted the donation the next year.
The importance that was given to this project was demonstrated by the fact that only three of the best architects of the time, Ragnar Hjorth, Cyrillus Johansson, and Ragnar Östberg, were invited to submit their designs for the new National Maritime Museum.
While Johansson’s design ended up being somewhat overlooked by the judges, the one created by Hjort was considered to be too similar to functionalist structures. That left only Östberg’s drawings that were to be implemented but not before the author of the world-famous Stockholm City Hall incorporated a set of modifications required by the appointed committee.
Architect Östberg’s original design depicted a building that was both longer and wider than the one you can visit at Gärdet today. Moreover, a number of additional windows were added to the plans despite the architect’s persistent protests. It is hard to think that his argument that “The building itself is the most important exhibition” could be of any help when trying to persuade enthusiasts of maritime history, which was to be the theme of the museum.
Interestingly, later research showed that light has harmful effects on historical artefacts, which is why many windows at the museum were covered to help protect valuable exhibits.
All discussions were eventually settled and the neoclassical building featuring traces of functionalism despite the strict requirements imposed by the Wallenberg Foundation was built between 1934 and 1935.
It was not before 1938, though, that King Gustav V inaugurated the new museum in presence of more than a thousand invited guests. Many have appreciated Östberg’s design for incorporating elements from the era of Gustav III (late 1700s), which is often seen as the era of the greatest power of the Swedish Navy.
Another curiosity related to the museum building is that at the time, all museums were required to have flexible floorplans. What that meant in practice was that only outer walls could be massive and fixed while all others were required to be flexible to easily accommodate the museum’s changing needs over time.
In spite of this supposedly futureproof solution, the authorities have now long been considering moving the museum to another location as the building does not fit the modern-day needs of the organisation. In addition to the problem with the excessive light I mentioned earlier, the climate and humidity control are not sufficient to preserve the collection consisting of around 50,000 historical artefacts, 900,000 photos, 45,000 drawings and many other records the museum holds.
Galärvarvet on Djurgården, where the Vasa Museum already resides, is most likely to become the new home of the Maritime Museum. Being near the water, this location would also allow the organisation to better integrate all of their diverse activities.
I hope you enjoyed the story of the Maritime Museum in Stockholm and hope that you are already planning to uncover the stories the museum itself has ready for you.
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