The Merlion statue spouting water into the Singapore River

Photo by Andrew Tan

Travellers acquainted with Singapore will probably already know of our city’s national icon—the mythical Merlion, which possesses the body of a fish and the head of a lion.

One of the most famous depictions of this iconic symbol is the statue found at Merlion Park—a scenic spot that stands near the mouth of the Singapore River.

Before you pay a visit to this beautiful locale, you may want to learn more about the symbolism behind the Merlion, and how it intertwines with our nation’s history.

Photo by Yik Keat

Fishing Village, Lion City

The Merlion being part-lion and part-fish is a tale that runs more than just skin (or stone) deep.

The Merlion’s fish-like body symbolises Singapore’s origins as a fishing village, known as Temasek—a name which comes from same root as the word tasek (‘lake’ in Malay).

The statue’s head represents the city’s original name of Singapura (lion city in Sanskrit). According to legend, Sang Nila Utama—a Srivijayan prince of Palembang—landed on our shores amidst a tempest at sea.

Near the mouth of the Singapore River, the prince spied a strange creature which he identified as a lion, thus giving Singapura its name.

The story behind the statue

Today, you can glimpse echoes of this legend, embodied in the statue at Merlion Park.

Spouting water from its mouth, the Merlion statue stands at 8.6 metres and weighs 70 tonnes. Originally located at the mouth of the Singapore River, it was built by local craftsman Lim Nang Seng, designed by Kwan Sai Kheong, and unveiled on 15 September 1972 by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

With the completion of Esplanade Bridge in 1997, the statue could no longer be viewed clearly from the waterfront and was relocated to the Merlion Park, which stands in front of Fullerton Hotel and overlooking Marina Bay.

As you travel across our island, see if you can spot other statues of our city’s national icon, which has inspired travellers, poets and Singaporeans alike.

Did You Know

The Merlion has been the subject of many verses by local writers. Ulysses by the Merlion—by famed local poet Edwin Thumboo—imagines the wonderment of mythical Greek hero Odysseus upon seeing the Merlion.