History and Legends

Warsaw Mermaid

 

The symbol of Warsaw, the Polish capital, is a mermaid with a shield and a sword. It appears not only in the coat of arms but also on numerous reliefs and statues throughout the city. As a symbol of Warsaw, it appears for the first time in the seals on documents of the city council from 1400.

From legend…

According to legend, the mermaid – a beautiful woman with a fish tail – came from the Atlantic and with her sister swam into the Baltic Sea. One of them took a liking to a coast in the Danish straits and from now on she can be seen sitting on a rock at the entrance to the harbor in Copenhagen.

The second swam to the great seaside port of Gdańsk, then the Vistula and  up its course. According to legend, at the foot of today’s Old Town, more or less at the point where now there is a statue of her, mermaid came out of the water on the sandy shore to relax and lie under the sun. She liked the place so much that she decided to stay there. Soon the fishermen noticed that someone churning the waves of the Vistula, tangling the nets and releasing fishes. But the mermaid enchanted them with her beautiful singing, so they let her stay.

Once a wealthy merchant saw the mermaid and heard her beautiful singing. He decided to imprison the mermaid to show her at fairs and get rich this way. He tricked mermaid and imprisoned her in a wooden shed, with no access to water. Complaints of the mermaid were heard by the son of a fisherman. He and his friends released her at night. Grateful mermaid promised them that if necessary they can also count on her help. This is why the Warsaw Mermaid is armed with a sword and a shield to defend the city.

…to symbol of capital city

Over the centuries, presentation of the mermaid changed. She had, for example, membranous wings, serpentine tail and two clawed paws. Sometimes her human half was a male. The first of the traditional presentation – half women, half fish – dates from 1622. What is interesting in the Polish language creature is called “syrena”, even if her appearance is closer to mermaid than siren.

The modern coat of arms of Warsaw was adopted as a result of a competition organized in 1938. The winning design was work of a graphic artist Feliks Szczęsny Kwarta. Coat of arms consists figure of a woman with a fish tail in a red field. In her right hand she rises the golden sword and in her left hand holds a gold round shield. Above the coat of arms is a golden royal crown, symbolizes capital city and the victory. In addition, there is a “Great Emblem of the Capital City of Warsaw” used only for ceremonial occasions. It includes a depiction of the Virtuti Militari War Order (the highest Polish military award), granted the city in Nov. 9, 1939 by the Commander in Chief General Wladyslaw Sikorski “In recognition of the heroic, tenacious courage proven by the population of the capital city of Warsaw in the defense against the German invasion.” War Order is presented with laurel leaves, a ribbon and Latin motto “Semper invicta” (Always invincible).