Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
There are many tales as well as many monsters and characters that children all around the world believe in. One of popular characters - used already in myths and popularised in a fairy tale for children by Hans Christian Andersen, screened afterwards by Walt Disney – is a mermaid. Half woman, half fish – most of the time good, sometimes in love but always tempting for men... Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, has mermaid as a symbol of the city. But Poland has its own mermaid too – Warsaw mermaid (Warszawska Syrenka). When visiting the capital of Poland, one may see some monuments depicting this mysterious creature. But the belief in mermaid has its roots in an old legend about the beginnings of Warsaw.
The most popular version of the legend is the one written down by Artur Oppman, saying about two sisters who swam into the waters of the Baltic Sea. One of them stayed in Danish rocks nearby Copenhagen while the second one reached Gdansk harbour and swam down in the river of Vistula. Nearby the Old Town of Warsaw, where her monument is still standing, she came out from the water to rest on the sandy bank of the river. As the mermaid liked the area very much, she decided to stay and settle down there. The fishermen noticed very soon that somebody tangles their nets. However, they were so enchanted by mermaid’s singing that they decided not to hurt her.
One day a rich merchant noticed the mermaid and heard her sing. He started already to count the money that he could make on this creature, while showing her on various fairs. The merchant caught the mermaid and hid her in a wooden shed with no access to the water. Her fearful cry was heard by a young son of fisherman who rescued the mermaid with the help of his friends. The mermaid was so thankful to the citizens of Warsaw, that she promised to protect their city when the need would arise. That is the reason why the Warsaw mermaid is depicted with a shield and sword for protection.
Nobody knows, however, why the mermaid became the crest of Warsaw. Probably it was due to the fashion that recommended including mythical creatures in crest of newly founded cities. The first depicts of Warsaw mermaid differed much from the one that we can see now. The crest from 1390 shows an animal with bird’s legs and dragon’s trunk covered with scales. The stamp from 1459 depicts already a creature that features female shapes but has bird’s trunk, human hands, fish tail and bird’s legs ended with claws. The first image of Warsaw mermaid, that features half woman half fish – comes from 1622.