Symbols of Warsaw: the Warsaw Mermaid (Syrena)

Warsaw is situated over 300 km (200 miles) from the closest sea coast. Therefore, it seems strange that the city should adopt a mermaid as its symbol. Nevertheless, city records as far back as 1609 document the use of a crude form of a sea monster with a female upper body and holding a sword in its claws. The emblem gradually evolved into the present day form. It appears on a shield on every municipal building, on buses, trams and taxis.

The Coat of Arms of Warsaw consists of a Syrenka (“little mermaid”) in a red field. Warsaw syrenka is cognate with siren, but she is more properly a fresh-water mermaid called “Melusina.” This imagery has been in use since at least the mid-14th century. The current official design of the symbol was introduced in 1938 but it was only used in this form until the beginning of WWII. After 1945, Communist authorities changed the emblem by removing the crown. The insignia was restored to the pre-war form on August 15, 1990.

Warsaw mermaid appears in many statues in the city. Probably the most know is the one in the Old Town’s Market square (erected in the middle of the 19th century) and the one by Vistula River in Powiśle district (erected in 1939) – both survived the war destruction. Different historic images of Syrenka might be seen on the door of St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw (Old Town, St. John Street), but if you take a look around Warsaw, you will see many other representations of the mermaid worked into architectural details, artwork, and souvenirs.

 

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