The top attraction in Portsmouth (pics) is the Historic Dockyard. This is a large collection of museums, artifacts and historic British warships. You could easily visit the dockyard everyday for a week and still not see it all. Perhaps the top highlight of the historic dockyard is the HMS Victory.
The Victory is a 104-gun warship of the British Royal Navy, launched in 1765. Around 6,000 trees were used in her construction, 90% of which were oak. The Victory saw action in several battles in her first 40 years until Lord Nelson rose to the rank of Admiral and took the Victory as his flag ship in his campaign to stop the advance of the French and Spanish who were under the direction of Napolean. The Battle of Trafalgar became the decisive action that defeated Napolean. During this battle, in late 1805, Admiral Nelson was wounded while on the deck of the Victory and and died shortly thereafter.
The Victory sustained extensive damage during the Battle of Trafalgar but was repaired and was active until 1812. Eventually, the Victory was moved into drydock in Portsmouth in 1922 and underwent extensive renovation which took place over the course of many years. Ultimately, by 2005 it had been restored to its Trafalgar configuration. Today it is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. In the dockyard visitors are able to go on board and explore all of the decks of the ship.
Another of the historic ships in the dockyard is the HMS Warrior, the first armor plated, iron hulled warship. It was launched in 1860 with 40 guns and a coal fired two-cylinder steam engine. The engine was powered by 10 rectangular boilers. The Warrior had a short career as a warship when more capable mastless ships were launched in the early 1870’s. The ship served various roles until 1979 when it was donated to the Maritime Trust for restoration. It has been in Portsmouth since 1987. Again, visitors can go aboard the Warrior and see the ship in pretty much the configuration it had when launched.
Perhaps the most fascinating display in the Historic Dockyard is the Mary Rose Museum which is dedicated to the 16th Century warship of the Tudor Navy of King Henry VIII. It was built in Portsmouth and launched in 1511. The ship last saw action in 1545 and was sunk just off shore from Portsmouth harbor. The wreck of the Mary Rose was rediscovered in 1971 and after having spent almost 450 years at the bottom of the ocean, it was salvaged in 1982 in one of the most complex and costly maritime archaeology projects in history.
The surviving portion of the ship and thousands of artifacts were buried under many feet of mud and silt which had to be slowly removed in order to raise the remains of the hull. Objects recovered include weaponry, sailing equipment, naval supplies and a wide array of items used by the crew. The hull is still undergoing a multi-year conservation process that is expected to be completed in 2016. It is undergoing a drying process in a “hot box” inside the museum so we were only able to look through windows into that very large room.