Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Warsaw Mermaid

The symbol of Warsaw, Poland is a mermaid brandishing a sword and shield. She can be seen in statues throughout Warsaw and on the city's coat of arms. She can be seen as far back as 1390 on the oldest existing seal. Though the full origin of the mermaid is not known there are two very popular legends on how she became the symbol of Warsaw.

The best-known legend, by Artur Oppman, is that long ago two of Triton's daughters set out on a journey through the depths of the oceans and seas. One of them decided to stay on the coast of Denmark and can be seen sitting at the entrance to the port of Copenhagen (the little mermaid.) The second mermaid reached the mouth of the Vistula River and plunged into its waters. At the foot of today's Old Town, she left the water to rest on the sandy shore, and she so liked the place that she decided to stay. Soon the fishermen noticed that during their fishing someone was churning the waves of the Vistula, tangling the nets and releasing the fish. But the mermaid enchanted them with her beautiful singing, and they did not harm her. One day a wealthy merchant saw the mermaid and her lovely song. He quickly calculated how much money he could make if he captured the mermaid and displayed her at market fairs. He tricked the mermaid, seized her and imprisoned her in a wooden shed without any water. A young farmhand heard the mermaid's cries, and with the help of friends he freed her at night. Grateful that the townspeople had defended her, the mermaid promised that she would help them in time of need. This is why the Warsaw Mermaid is armed: She bears a sword and a shield to defend the city.

Among the lesser-known legends is the one written by Maria Kr├╝ger entitled "The Noble Griffin and the Beautiful Mermaid." According to the legend, the security of the medieval city of Warsaw was guarded by a manly and noble Griffin. When he once took a journey with the river boatmen to the Baltic, he met a beautiful Mermaid. They fell deeply in love and the Mermaid swam with them back to Warsaw. From then on, they both watched over the townspeople. When the Swedes attacked Warsaw in the 17th century , the valiant Griffin was treacherously wounded by the enemy and shortly died, and his companion, the brave Mermaid, seized sword and shield and courageously fought in defense of the city. Grateful residents of the city on the Vistula were smitten with her and placed her image on the arms of their city.

The current official design of the symbol was introduced in 1938 but it was only used in this form until the beginning of World War II. After 1945, Communist authorities changed the emblem by removing the crown. The insignia was restored to the pre-war form on August 15, 1990.

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