Why Is There a Mermaid in Warsaw's Old Town Square?

Aleksander Głowacki / © Culture Trip
Aleksander Głowacki / © Culture Trip
Photo of Jonny Blair
10 June 2018

A curious sight for many visitors to Warsaw’s Old Town is the mermaid statue in the Old Town square, known locally as the Syrenka. But why is there a statue of a mermaid in the Old Town? What is the history of the mermaid in Warsaw, and why is it such a significant part of the city’s history?

When did the mermaid first appear on Warsaw’s coat of arms?

A ‘creature’ has been on Warsaw’s coat of arms ever since 1390. Originally it was an odd-looking animal with bird’s legs and a scale-covered torso. By 1459, it had been turned into another animal that, this time, was definitely feminine. This emblem’s animal had human hands, a fish tail, breasts and bird claws. However, it wasn’t until 1622 that the Warsaw coat of arms actually had a mermaid on it. From this point on, Warsaw’s coat of arms has always had a syrenka (mermaid) on it.

Warsaw’s Mermaid | © Poznaniak / WikiCommons

What is the story of the mermaid?

Predictably, there are several legends and myths about Warsaw’s mermaid. Many tour guides in the city claim that in days of yore, the mermaid came to the banks of the Wisła River and saw the Old Town, before deciding to stay. It has also been said that the mermaid was caught by local fishermen, who originally wanted to kill her, before falling in love and deciding to rescue her. Other stories link Warsaw’s mermaid to the one in Copenhagen, saying they are sisters who got separated in the Baltic Sea, and one of the mermaids swam to Warsaw along the Wisła River from Gdańsk.

Aleksander Głowacki / | © Culture Trip

When did the mermaid first appear in Warsaw’s Old Town square?

The original sculpture of the mermaid in Warsaw’s Old Town square was designed by local sculptor Konstanty Hegel and was placed here in 1855.

Why does the mermaid have a sword and a shield?

The mermaid is protecting Warsaw from invasion, hence the need for her to hold a sword and a shield.

Warsaw’s mermaid | © Grzegorz Polak / WikiCommons

Has the mermaid remained in Warsaw’s Old Town square ever since?

No! During its history since 1855, the mermaid has been moved to other parts of the city and has also been taken away for maintenance work on occasions. It is known that between 1855 and 1928 it remained in the Old Town square. The mermaid didn’t return to the Old Town square until the year 2000. Again, in 2008 it was removed for renovation work, as it was in urgent need of repair. However, the current mermaid statue in Warsaw Old Town square is actually a brand new one, from 2008, as the original was transferred to the museum of Warsaw to be put on display.

Are there any other mermaids in Warsaw?

This iconic mermaid in Warsaw’s Old Town square might be the most photographed and famous monument in the city, but it is not the only mermaid here. In fact, it is also not even the biggest mermaid statue in Warsaw. If you fancy going on the hunt of all the Warsaw mermaids, here are just five of the other locations where you can find ‘her’, there are actually many more…

1. Powiśle

The mermaid statue in the Warsaw district of Powiśle is almost as famous as the Old Town square one. This is a larger statue and sits overlooking the famous Wisła River, Poland’s longest river. It was unveiled in 1939 and is made of gunmetal. This mermaid reveals slightly more of her feminine parts than the old town square statue, but is not photographed as often.

Warsaw’s mermaid | © Grzegorz Polak / WikiCommons

2. The Palace of Culture and Science

Believe it or not, there are four mermaids in Warsaw’s iconic Palace of Culture and Science, but you need to look carefully to find them. There is one on each clock face of the building; they were added in the year 2000.

Palace of Culture and Science | © Carlos Delgado / WikiCommons

3. The Sejm (Polish Parliament)

Even the Polish Parliament in Warsaw has a mermaid emblem engraved onto a statue. Although only politicians and those invited can see this one, a shield on the eagle statue in the Sejm (Polish Parliament) contains a mermaid. It was placed here in 1947 and was designed by Aleksander Żurakowski.

4. The Markiewicz viaduct

On Karowa Street in Warsaw, there is another mermaid statue that has been built on the Stanislaw Markiewicz viaduct. It was unveiled in 1905 and created by Jan Woydyga.

Karova Street Mermaid | © Szczebrzeszynski / WikiCommons

5. Grochowska Street

The Grochowska Street mermaid is an interesting one as this is on the other side of the Wisła River. This is located in the Praga-Południe district and is in front of the district council offices. It is one of the lesser known mermaid statues, and is not crowded with tourists. It was created by Jerzy Chojnacki in the Warsaw district of Saska Kępa, before being moved further east.

Are there any statues of this mermaid outside Warsaw?

Yes! In the town of Bielsko-Biała in the south of Poland, there is a fountain of the Warsaw mermaid with a similar shape to the monument in Powiśle. This one dates back to 1954, and was designed by Ryszard Sroczyński. This mermaid is much slimmer than the other statues.

The mermaid in Bielsko-Biała | © Gaj777 / WikiCommons

So next time you’re in Warsaw, be on the lookout for these mermaids, and don’t forget to check out the top 10 sights of the city.

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