Find out the history behind the half lion, half fish mythical creature and where to find it!
It is without question that the Merlion is one of the strangest national symbol in the world, yet it has both confused and mesmerised travellers and locals alike since its unveil.
The Merlion was commissioned in 1964 by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (now known as Singapore Tourism Board, or STB) and designed by Alec Fraser Brunner, a zoologist and curator of Van Kleef Aquarium, Singapore’s first public aquarium.
The lion head signifies the legend of Sang Nila Utama’s when he discovered a lion during his landing on the island while the fish body pays tribute to the country’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.
The name is a combination of “mer”, a prefix applied to partly sea-creatures, and “lion”.
Its embodiment of Singapore and unique design prompted STB to adopt the symbol as its official logo from 1964 to 1997. The Merlion was trademarked in 1966 by STB, making it a legal requirement to apply for the use of the Merlion symbol for commercial activities; non-commercial and tourism-related activities are exempted.
The Merlion made its first physical appearance in 1972 with a statue of it near the entrance of Singapore River. The 8.6-metre tall, 70-ton heavy Merlion was designed by then vice-chancellor of National Univeristy of Singapore Kwan Sai Keong and crafted by local sculptor Lim Nang Seng.
In 1997, the completion of Esplanade Bridge blocked the former Merlion Park from the Marina Bay waterfront. This led to calls for the relocation of the Merlion.
Several sites were considered, including the Esplanade Park, a promontory near where Marina Bay Sands is, and a promontory where the Singapore Flyer is. It was eventually decided that the Merlion will be shifted to a reclaimed promontory at the front of the Fullerton Hotel.
Today, with its prominent location and a 360-degree view of the surrounding, the new Merlion Park has emerged to become a major tourist attraction at Marina Bay.
In 2005, local contemporary artist Lim Tzay Chuen proposed to ship the Merlion to Venice for the 2005 Venice Biennale. Unsurprisingly, the proposal was dropped by STB in light of the logistical difficulties involved.
In 2011, the Merlion became a pop-up hotel as part of the 2011 Singapore Biennale, a large scale contemporary art exhibition. The hotel was fully-booked within an hour.
Over the years, imitations of the Merlion statue have sprouted across Singapore as well as other parts of the world.
1) A smaller statue standing two metres tall and weighing three tonnes can be found at Merlion Park. As part of its design, the statue was plastered with Chinese porcelain plates.
2) A 3-metre tall Merlion statue can be found at Faber Point at Mount Faber.
3) Another 3-metre Merlion statue can be found at Tourism Court, the office of Singapore’s Tourism Board. It is the only indoor Merlion statue in Singapore.
4) A pair of stone Merlions can be found opposite Ang Mo Kio-Bishan Park, along Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 (block 216 – 222 carpark entrance). The pair was initially renounced by STB as proper permissions were not obtain to display the statues. Their stance was later reversed and the merlion statues are now part of the seven approved Merlion statues in Singapore.
5) The seventh and perhaps the most iconic Merlion, the Sentosa Merlion, was closed in Oct 2019 to make way for a linkway between Resorts World Sentosa in the north and Sentosa’s beaches in the south. The now demolished Merlion statue stood 37-metres tall and featured an animated indoor exhibition of Sang Nila Utama’s discovery of Singapore.
6) A pair of Merlion statue can be found at Woodlands Avenue 6, block 718. It is said that the pair were sculptured by the local community but were not approved by the STB.
7) A 2-metre Merlion can be found abandoned at Changi Air Base near block 151. This place is closed to the public.
8) A 8.6-metre tall Merlion — the same height as the one at Merlion Park — can be found on the outskirts of Hakodate, Hokkaido’s third largest city. It was erected in 1989 by philanthropist Masaru Yanagisawa, who was a big fan of Singapore. The Merlion is said to act as a guardian deity for navigation safety, guarding ships that travel to the port of Hokodate.
9) A miniature Merlion statue can be found at a kimono shop in Karuizawa, Nagano, Japan. It was purchased by the owner during a visit in Singapore. The statue rose to fame in 2016 after being posted to Facebook by Lee Hsien Loong who was on a family trip.
10) A 2-metre Merlion statue flanked by two Singapore flags can be found at Nami Island, South Korea.
11) A 2-metre statue of the Merlion can be found at Benjakiti Park in Bangkok, near the entrance next to Queen Sirikit Convention Centre. The statue is a joint contribution by Singaporeans living in Thailand as well as Singapore Thai Chamber of Commerce, Singapore Club of Thailand and Singapore Tourism Board.
12) A 6-metre Merlion statue can be found right outside Cafe Singapore at Bontang, Indonesia. It is one of three known Merlion statues that can spout water, the other two being the ones at the Merlion Park.
With this handy list in hand, how many Merlions can you take a selfie with?