Warsaw’s symbol is the mermaid (syrenka). She appears in statue form in Old Town’s Market Square and next to the Markiewicz Bridge, but when you travel to Poland’s capital city, you will probably spot the image of this mythical creature worked into architectural details and used as a part of business logos.
Many legends (legendy) exist that describe how the mermaid came to symbolize Warsaw. Here is one of them:
“A long time ago (dawno temu), a dense and impassible forest (las) covered the region of Mazowsze.
One day, Prince Ziemomysł who ruled in this region, went out on a hunting trip and lost his way in the forest. He tried and tried to find a way out until he got to the overgrown rushes on the banks of the Vistula River.
In the gentle waves (fale) of the river’s waters, the Prince spotted a beautiful creature. The top half (górna połowa) of her body was woman-like and the other half from waste right down to the very tip of her fish tale was covered in fish scales. Even though she had a bow and arrow in her hands, she did not aim at the Prince. Her arrow shot through the air (powietrze) and flew far, far ahead and out of the Princes’ sight. Then she spoke to him: “follow my arrow and you will find good people who will give you shelter (schronienie), food and help you find the way back home“. And then she dived into the gentle waves of the river.
Prince Ziemomysł did as Mermaid said. He followed the arrow until he stood at the front of a poor fisherman’s hut. There wasn’t much to share, but the fisherman and his wife made the Prince very welcome not knowing who he really was. Their twins, Wars and Sawa cheerfully played their favorite games with the Prince. He was happy to find such good people living on his land.
The next day it was time to say goodbye but before he left, the Prince told his subjects who he really was. He promised to build a grand town where the fishing village (wioska rybacka) was and to nominate the poor fisherman to be the castellan, who would rule the town on the Princes‘ behalf.
Years passed, many houses were built and the town was called Warszawa after the names of the poor fisherman’s twin children, Wars and Sawa. On the town’s crest, the Prince placed the beautiful Mermaid who showed him the way to the fisherman’s hut.
No one ever saw the legendary Mermaid. But they all heard her evening singing and they loved it. Except for the old hermit who lived in the forest on his own. He hated the Mermaid and her singing and believed that she stole people’s souls. He managed to persuade some fishermen that the Mermaid is dangerous and must be caught and brought to justice.
One night they waited for her on the river bank and when she had just started her beautiful lullaby, they threw fishing net (sieć rybacka) over her. They put her into the hay barn for the night and waited to bring her into the courts early in the morning.
The Mermaid started singing. She knew it was her last song and it was the saddest melody she had ever sung in her life. A young shepherd heard the song and it melted his heart. He felt very sorry for the beautiful creature and decided to free her. He opened the door of the hay barn and let her go.
She was never to be seen after that and no one has heard her singing since. The only proof of her existence is the image in the crest of the city of Warsaw.”
There are also other stories about the mermaid, but this one was always my favorite.
Warsaw’s mermaid monument dates from the middle of the 19th century. However, the mermaid went missing from the square for the better part of the 20th century, finding her home in the square again only in the year 2000. A fountain that burbles at ground level under her stone pedestal reminds passersby of her connection with the nearby Vistula River.
Do następnego razu! (Till next time…)