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It seems strange
that Warsaw should adopt a mermaid as its symbol, as it is situated over 300km (200 miles) from the closest sea coast. 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. In 1653 the poet Zygmunt Laukowski asks the question
Warsaw of strong walls; why was the emblem
Mermaid with sharp sword, given you by the kings?
The emblem gradually evolved into the present day form. It appears on a shield on every municipal building, on buses, trams and taxis.
Needless to say, during 50 years of communist rule, the crown was removed from the "Syrena" and also from the national emblem - the White Eagle.
The people of Warsaw are proud of their symbol, which appears in many art forms, as the one on the left from the weekly magazine "Tygodnik Ilustrowany" in 1900. But however presented, the mermaid is always shown with sword in hand to indicate the fighting spirit of the citizens. Indeed, the people of Warsaw rebelled several times in the 19th.century against the Russian occupiers of the time.
In recent years, this spirit manifested itself in the continual struggle against the Nazis during World War II, culminating in the disastrous uprising of 1944 as a result of which the city was almost totally destroyed, and tens of thousands died. The maritime theme was also evident in the stylized PW symbol in the shape of an anchor that was scratched, painted, chalked on buildings, vehicles, signposts, throughout the five years of occupation. The PW stood for Polska Walczaca, "Poland Fights."
The streets and parks of Warsaw are adorned by many statues commemorating kings, statesmen, artists and heroes of the many battles for freedom from oppression. Among them "Syrena" figures, not once but twice.
The five times greater than life size "Syrena" statue, on the bank of the river Vistula, was created in 1939 by sculptress Louise Nitschowa. Her model was a well known young poet who gave her life fighting in the 1944 Uprising. The Germans destroyed many of Warsaw's monuments, including those of Chopin and Copernicus. But they were unaware of the symbolism of the mermaid figure, and it was one of the few that were not destroyed.
The other is much smaller, and more graceful. In fact it is called
Syrenka , which means "Little Mermaid". It is a zinc cast of the sculpture by Konstanty Hegel, made in 1855.
Recently it was moved from an obscure location to the very center of the Old Town Square. The logo at the top of this page is adapted from a photo of it.
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Go for a photo tour of Warsaw and more pictures of Warsaw monuments.
For a great collection of mermaid art, go to
For an excellent reference to all sites related to Mermaids, including history, literature and artt,
go to http://www.isidore-of-seville.com/mermaids/