The Roaring History of Singapore's Merlion

Rear view of Merlion with Marina Bay Sands in the distance
Rear view of Merlion with Marina Bay Sands in the distance | © Fad3away / WikiCommons
Photo of Sadali Mawi
12 October 2018

Do a quick search on google for Singapore’s history and you would likely chance upon the image of the Merlion: a half lion, half mermaid creature that has slowly become an embodiment of the country’s past. But how did the Merlion come to be? Read on to find out more about the mythical creature’s beginning and its impact on Singapore’s tourism.

Mythical beginnings

It has been said that the Merlion reflects the legend of Sang Nila Utama, a Malay prince that sailed across the seas before discovering a fishing island called Temasek (which mean “fish town” in Javanese). It was there that he met with a majestic creature, a lion, which purported him to name the island Singapura which translated to “Lion City” in Sanskrit.

Fun fact: Singapore hasn’t had any sightings of lions since, leaving some to think that this is nothing more than an old wives’ tale.

View of the Merlion from the Merlion Park | © Marek Kubica/Flickr

What about the fish?

So the Merlion reflects the lion that Sang Nila Utama discovered, but what about the half-fish? With Sang Nila’s tale as a basis, the Merlion was designed by Fraser Brunner in 1964 as an emblem for the Singapore Tourism Board, adding a fish tail to the statue to signify Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village. The symbol then served as Singapore Tourism Board’s corporate logo for 31 years, from 1966 to 1997.

The Merlion as an icon today

The first Merlion and the Cub were originally located at the Esplanade Bridge, before moving to its present location at One Fullerton. The area has also been nicknamed the Merlion Park for being a popular destination for tourists.

With million-dollar developments happening around Singapore in recent years, the country’s tourism symbol has since shifted to focus more on the Singapore skyline, with Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Flyer garnering more interest amongst tourists for the premium pull factor.

Artistic projections on the Merlion, facing Marina Bay Sands | © Dave Ho/Flickr

However, for the many that have resided here since Singapore’s independence, the Merlion serves as an irreplaceable reminder of the country’s humble roots. The Merlion Park is still one of the most visited places for tourists, with the Merlion being one of the most photographed icons of Singapore to date.

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