The market square in ‘Old Town’ Warsaw has a permanent resident, the mermaid or syrenka the symbol of the city. Mermaids are normally associated with the ocean so this seems a little strange as the capital of Poland is land-locked.
Warsaw has had a connection to the mermaid since the 14th century. It has received a bit of a make-over since it’s original incarnation. It first appeared on a royal seal as a rather grim dragon with the head of a man. The feisty and well armed young lady that now resides in the city is a much more pleasant defender.
There are a number of stories which try to explain why the freshwater syrenka was adopted as the symbol from guiding the lost Prince Kazimierz to safety with flaming arrows after a hunting trip to her defense of the city during the Swedish Siege of Warsaw after the death of her partner a griffin. She was the adopted as the symbol in gratitude.
My favourite however is one in which she originally arrived from the Baltic, with her twin sister, they then parted company at Gdansk. She swam on down the Wista and became a protector of fish, releasing them from fisherman’s nets. At first the fisherman were incensed and planned to capture her, but changed their minds once they heard her melodious voice. However a merchant did capture her, planning to exploit her by touring Poland with the mermaid as his ‘star’ attraction.
A fisherman’s son overheard her wailing however and she was freed and as a sign of gratitude she pledged herself to defending the city.
In a city which has musical benches and A Capella sculptures which play requested tunes when a text message is sent with the approriate code it would not have been a surprise to find the statue also sings. That it does not, maybe is a sign of the respect afforded to the syrenka, a beloved symbol of a city which manages to blend the old and new into a modern destination that I am sure she is equally proud of.
More from Warsaw – Postcard from the Royal Palace