The Merlion: Singapore’s Mythological Cultural Icon & Tourism Marketing Mascot

The Merlion, in all of its glory! [Image via WIkimedia Commons, by Sengkang of English]

Surely, you’ve heard of the Liger by now: half lion, half tiger (bred for its skills in magic, pretty much my favorite animal). But have you heard of the Merlion?  Yup, half lion, half mermaid!

This iconic beast makes its home in Marina Bay, Singapore, where it stands guard in front of The Fullerton Hotel. Singapore’s Merlion was the first I’d ever heard of, but apparently, there is a long tradition of lion-headed fish icons, called Heraldic Sea Lions, that were used in the coats of arms in the UK. But no Merlion is as famous as the 28 foot tall, 40 ton concrete statue in Sinagpore’s Marina Bay.

The original Merlion was commissioned as a logo for the Sinapore Tourism Board in 1964 because the country needed a mascot, something they could put on a keychain and sell to tourists. That’s understandable, but how did they end up using a Merlion as their logo and not something more… traditionally Singaporean? As it turns out, modern Singapore was founded as an East India Company trade post. And the East India Compnay happens to use two Heraldic Sea Lions on its coat of arms. Furthermore, Singapore’s original name (Singapura) actually means “lion city.” And so the Sea Lion was born.

For whatever reason, this mythical beast has really struck a chord with locals and tourists and it has become a beloved part of Singaporean culture. You might even hear people spouting folk-mythologies about how in ancient times, a fishing village on the coast was protected by a giant Merlion that lived along its shores. Unfortunately, these stories were invented throughout the 70’s and 80’s as the legend of the Merlion grew throughout the years. You can think of it as basically a huge marketing campaign by the Singaporean tourism board.

The Sentosa Merlion, perhaps more glorious than the original! [image via Wikimedia Commons, by Terence Ong]

Regardless of the actual history behind the Merlion, It’s a pretty awesome icon. What could be better than a 28 foot lion-headed fish beast?

How about a 121 foot tall lion-headed fish beast that shoots lasers out of its eyes? Yup, that exists too!The Merlion proved so popular that they built a giant one on the resort island of Sentosa. And yes, every evening at 7.45 PM, the Sentosa Merlion shots a laser light show out of its eyes. That’s about as cool weird quirky ridiculous awesome as it gets.

Bring it on, Godzilla!

Want to see the Merlion for yourself? It’s easy to book flights to Singapore and get great deals on hotels in Singapore to check it out! And Singapore is a great starting point for visiting Malaysia, Indonesia, and the rest of South East Asia.

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