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The Merlion: Symbol of Singapore's Maritime History and Identity

The Merlion Statue
The Merlion Statue

The Merlion, an iconic emblem of Singapore, stands as a testament to the nation’s rich maritime history and its vibrant identity. This mythical creature, with the head of a lion and the body of a fish, encapsulates the essence of Singapore, blending its historical roots with its contemporary status as a global city. The Merlion is more than just a statue; it is a cultural touchstone that resonates deeply within the hearts of Singaporeans and visitors alike. 

Overview of the Merlion: Singapore's Iconic Symbol

Rising majestically against the skyline, the Merlion is recognized globally as the symbol of Singapore. This half-lion, half-fish creature embodies the city’s origin as a fishing village known historically as Temasek and its transformation into a bustling port city. The lion head represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, which means "Lion City" in Sanskrit, while the fish tail symbolizes its humble beginnings as a fishing village. Together, they narrate a story of growth, resilience, and cultural amalgamation.

Importance of the Merlion in Singapore's Cultural and Historical Context

The Merlion’s significance extends beyond its mythological roots, serving as a cultural and historical icon that unites the past with the present. It stands as a symbol of Singapore's journey from a modest maritime settlement to a thriving cosmopolitan hub. This emblem not only attracts tourists but also instills a sense of pride and identity among Singaporeans, reminding them of their shared heritage and the collective strides they have made.

Origins of the Merlion: The Story Behind the Merlion

The legend of the Merlion is steeped in rich folklore, weaving a tale that begins with the discovery of Singapore by a Sumatran prince. According to myth, the prince saw a lion upon arriving on the island, an omen that led him to name the place Singapura, or "Lion City." Over time, this legend intertwined with the island’s maritime culture, giving rise to the Merlion—a creature that merges the strength and bravery of the lion with the seafaring history of the fish.

The conceptualization of the Merlion as a national icon was a collaborative effort between the Singapore Tourism Board and the artist Lim Nang Seng. Commissioned in 1964, the Merlion was envisioned to symbolize Singapore’s rich heritage and aspirations. The process of transforming this mythical creature from folklore into a concrete symbol involved meticulous planning and artistic ingenuity, ultimately resulting in a statue that captures the imagination and admiration of people worldwide.

Role of the Singapore Tourism Board: Bringing the Merlion to Life

The Singapore Tourism Board played a pivotal role in bringing the Merlion to life, spearheading efforts to establish it as the symbol of Singapore. Recognizing its potential to attract tourists and promote national identity, the Board commissioned the creation of the Merlion statue, which was unveiled in 1972. Since then, the Board has continued to promote the Merlion as a central figure in Singapore’s tourism and cultural campaigns, ensuring its status as a national icon endures.

Design and Symbolism: Lion Head and Fish Body

The design of the Merlion is a masterful blend of elements that hold deep symbolic meanings. The lion’s head represents strength, courage, and Singapore’s historical name, Singapura. The fish body, with its scales and flowing tail, symbolizes Singapore’s origins as a fishing village and its close ties to the sea. This combination reflects the duality of Singapore’s identity both its historical roots and its modern achievements.

The Merlion Statue
The Merlion Statue

Symbolic Meanings: Strength, Heritage, and Maritime Identity

Each element of the Merlion is imbued with rich symbolism. The lion head signifies bravery and the spirit of progress, while the fish body reflects adaptability and prosperity. Together, these elements capture Singapore’s heritage and its transformation into a maritime powerhouse. The Merlion thus serves as a reminder of the nation’s journey, celebrating both its resilience and its forward-looking vision.

The Merlion Statue: Landmark of Singapore

History of the Original Merlion Statue: Conception to Completion

The original Merlion statue, standing at 8.6 meters tall and weighing 70 tonnes, was sculpted by Lim Nang Seng. It was unveiled on September 15, 1972, by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the mouth of the Singapore River. This landmark event marked the Merlion’s emergence as a symbol of Singapore’s identity, with the statue quickly becoming a beloved national icon.

Location and Setting: Merlion Park and its Significance

Merlion Park, located near the Marina Bay Sands, is the home of the original Merlion statue. This picturesque setting enhances the statue’s appeal, offering visitors stunning views of the cityscape. The park itself has become a must-visit destination, where tourists and locals alike gather to appreciate the beauty of the Merlion and its surroundings. The strategic placement of the statue at the waterfront underscores its maritime significance.

Relocation in 2002: The Journey of the Merlion

In 2002, the Merlion statue was relocated from its original position at the mouth of the Singapore River to its current location at Merlion Park. This move was necessitated by the construction of the Esplanade Bridge, which obstructed the statue’s view. The relocation process was a monumental task, involving careful planning and execution. The successful move ensured that the Merlion continued to stand as a prominent symbol, accessible to all who visit.

The Merlion’s Role in Tourism

Tourist Attraction: Drawing Visitors from Around the World

As a key tourist attraction, the Merlion draws countless visitors from across the globe. Its striking appearance and symbolic significance make it a focal point for sightseeing tours. Tourists flock to Merlion Park to capture photos with the iconic statue, contributing to its status as one of Singapore’s most visited landmarks. The Merlion’s ability to captivate visitors underscores its importance in Singapore’s tourism industry.

Photographic Icon: The Merlion as a Must-See Landmark

The Merlion’s striking silhouette against the backdrop of Marina Bay has made it a must-see landmark for photographers. Its majestic form, juxtaposed with the modern skyline, creates a compelling visual narrative that captures the essence of Singapore. This photogenic quality not only enhances the visitor experience but also generates significant social media presence, further cementing the Merlion’s iconic status.

The Merlion Park
The Merlion Park

Merlion Variants

There are a total of six Merlion statues in Singapore recognized by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

  • The Merlion Cub: This is a smaller, two-meter tall statue located behind the original Merlion statue at Merlion Park.

  • Tourist Court: A three-meter-tall glazed polymarble statue located near Grange Road, built in 1995.

  • Mount Faber: A three-meter mini statue made out of polymarble located at Mount Faber's Faber Point.

  • Pair of Merlions at Ang Mo Kio Ave 1: These were constructed by the Ang Mo Kio Residential Committee in 1998. They stand guard at the car park entrance.

  • Sentosa Island: There was previously a very tall Merlion on Sentosa Island, but it was demolished in October 2019.


The Merlion stands as a powerful symbol of Singapore’s maritime history, cultural heritage, and national identity. From its mythical roots and artistic design to its role in tourism and popular culture, the Merlion encapsulates the essence of Singapore. Its journey from a concept to an enduring icon reflects the nation’s resilience and adaptability.

The Merlion’s legacy is woven into the fabric of Singapore’s identity, embodying the values and aspirations that define the nation. Its presence in education, culture, and public life ensures that it remains a vital part of Singapore’s story. As a symbol of strength, heritage, and progress, the Merlion continues to inspire pride and unity among Singaporeans.

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