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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » January 30, 2014
Destination Warsaw
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Warsaw’s Legendary Mermaid
January 30, 2014   
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Most big cities are rich in legends. Warsaw, which dates back to the 14th century, is no exception. Warsaw’s legendary heroine is the Mermaid (Syrenka).

There are several legends about the Warsaw mermaid. I like the lesser-known legend that says that a mermaid once swam to Warsaw from the Baltic Sea along the Vistula River for the love of a Griffin, the ancient defender of the city, who was killed in a struggle against the Swedish invaders in the 17th century. The mermaid seized his sword and shield and continued the fight to defend the city. Grateful residents placed her image on the city’s coat of arms.

When Poland was partitioned and Warsaw was forbidden to use its emblem, Varsovians started to place the mermaid’s image in public spaces. It can be found on numerous building facades, balcony railings, gates and lanterns, as well as on the logos of various local institutions. The changing appearance of the mermaid can be seen on the doors of St. John’s Cathedral in the Old Town.

A famous mermaid sculpture by Konstanty Hegel in zinc cast was made in 1855. Today it takes pride of place at the Old Town Square. A fountain around the statute’s pedestal reminds visitors of the mermaid’s connection with the nearby Vistula River. Tourists and locals alike love being photographed with the mermaid here.

A five-times-larger-than-life mermaid statue stands at Ko¶ciuszko Quay, near the ¦więtokrzyski Bridge, one of many favorite strolling places in Warsaw. Designed by Ludwika Krasowska-Nitschowa, it was made in 1939 just before the outbreak of World War II.

Other mermaid statues can be admired on Karowa Street and in Królikarnia Park. Her image can also be found on street lamps, on gates, on the clock tower of the Palace of Culture and Science, incorporated in the wind rose in the Old Town and many other places.

Few people know or remember that Pablo Picasso visited Warsaw in 1948 and on the wall of one of the city’s newly built apartments sketched the mermaid with a hammer instead of a sword. Picasso’s image of the mermaid has only remained on photographs, and today it has been placed on various souvenirs, such as mugs and T-shirts.

Jolanta Wolska
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