Singapore Skyline 2019-10.jpg
The Merlion Park viewed with the Singapore skyline in the background
Chinese name
Malay name
Tamil name

The Merlion (/ˈmɜːrˌlən/) is the official mascot of Singapore. It is depicted as a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. Being of prominent symbolic nature to Singapore and Singaporeans in general, it is widely used to represent both the city state and its people in sports teams, advertising, branding, tourism and as a national personification.[1]

The Merlion was first used in Singapore as the logo for the tourism board. Its name combines "mer", meaning the sea, and "lion". The fish body represents Singapore's origin as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, which means "sea town" in Javanese. The lion head represents Singapore's original name—Singapura—meaning "lion city" or "kota singa".

The symbol was designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee and curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, for the logo of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in use from 26 March, 1964 to 1997 and has been its trademarked symbol since 20 July 1966. Although the STB changed their logo in 1997, the STB Act continues to protect the Merlion symbol.[2] Approval must be received from STB before it can be used. The Merlion frequently appears on STB-approved souvenirs.

Original location

Merlion at its original location on the mouth of the Singapore River in 1994
Merlion at its original location on the mouth of the Singapore River in 1994

On 15 September 1972, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew officiated the installation ceremony of the Merlion statue.[3] The original statue stood at the mouth of the Singapore River in Merlion Park.

It was conceptualised by the vice-chancellor Kwan Sai Kheong of the University of Singapore (now known as National University of Singapore) and constructed from November 1971 to August 1972 by Singapore sculptor Lim Nang Seng (Chinese: 林浪新; pinyin: Lín Làngxīn).[4] It measures 8.6 metres high and weighs 70 tons.[3][5] The project cost about S$165,000.[3]

Relocation of original statue

View of Marina Bay Sands hotel from the Merlion
View of Marina Bay Sands hotel from the Merlion
The Merlion Park viewed with the Singapore skyline in the background
The Merlion Park viewed with the Singapore skyline in the background

The completion of the Esplanade Bridge, in 1997, blocked the views of the Merlion from the Marina Bay waterfront.[3] By then, the original Merlion location was also no longer the entrance of Singapore River.[3] So, in 2002, the statue and its cub were relocated 120 metres to the current Merlion Park that fronts Marina Bay where it stands on a newly reclaimed promontory in front of The Fullerton Hotel.

Another solution considered—to raise the Merlion on a pedestal at its original location—was deemed unsuitable as the view would still be blocked by the bridge. Other possible relocation sites considered included Nicoll Highway Extension Bridge, Esplanade Park, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, a promontory at Marina Centre (near where Singapore Flyer is located now), a promontory site at Bayfront (near the tip of Marina Bay Sands integrated resort) and Kim Seng Park. However, all were either unsuitable or not technically feasible.[3]

The unprecedented feat of relocation began on 23 April 2002 and finished on 25 April. A carefully engineered journey required one barge, two DEMAG AC1600S cranes of 5000 tonnes lifting capacity, plus a team of 20 engineers and workers on site. The entire statue was hoisted onto the barge, which then sailed to the new installation site at the current Merlion Park, near the mouth of Singapore River. During the voyage, the statue had to be hoisted from the barge, over the Esplanade Bridge and then back onto the barge, as it was too tall to pass underneath.

Exactly 30 years after it was officially launched, then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew returned on 15 September 2002 to ceremonially welcome the Merlion again – this time in its new home. A viewing deck now stretches over the Singapore River, allowing visitors to pose for a photograph with a front or side view of the Merlion, including a new city skyline backdrop in the picture. The sculpture was aligned to face East, a direction advised to be most auspicious.[5] Relocated, the statue once more spouted water from its mouth, having stopped in its old location since 1998 due to a water pump malfunction. The Merlion now has a new two-unit water pump system with units working alternatively, so a partner is always on standby. The relocation and new site (four times larger than the original) cost S$7.5 million.[5]

Maintenance of original statue

From 5 June till 10 July 2006, the Merlion at Merlion Park underwent maintenance. The last one was right after its relocation. Dirt and stains were removed using high-pressure water streams, and various wear and tear of the statue was mended.[6]

During that period, visitors were greeted with illustrated hoardings and canvases covering the safety nets and scaffolding. The illustrations[7] were designed by Miel, an award-winning senior artist at The Straits Times. The illustration on the canvases made them look like shower curtains, with the Merlion sticking its head out with the shadow of its tail behind the curtain. The illustration on the hoardings showed the Merlion scrubbing himself with a brush and showering using a Merlion shower head spouting water. The Merlion said, "EXCUSE ME while I take a shower..." in a speech bubble.

The Merlion on Sentosa was designed and sculpted by an Australian Artist named James Martin. It is made of Glass Reinforced Cement (GRC) over a steel armature that is attached to the centre.[8]

The Merlion Park was temporarily turned into a single-unit hotel suite, as part of an artwork by Tatzu Nishi, for the duration of the 2011 Singapore Biennale.[9]

Damage by lightning

On Saturday, 28 February 2009, at about 4:26 pm, the Merlion in the Merlion Park was struck by lightning.[10] A breaking news from 938NOW local radio showed an image with fragments from the Merlion's head on the ground.

Examination of the damage was done quickly with wooden scaffolding set up on Sunday, 1 March 2009 for workers to take a closer look at the hole. The incident happened as a result of the lack of lightning protection on the Merlion itself.[11]

Merlion statues

The Merlion on Sentosa (already disassembled)
The Merlion on Sentosa (already disassembled)
Mini Merlion
Mini Merlion
The Merlion on Mount Faber
The Merlion on Mount Faber
The Merlion Tourism Court
The Merlion Tourism Court

Within Singapore, there are six Merlion statues in Singapore which are approved by the STB.[12][13]

One of the previously approved statues, a 37-metre-tall gigantic replica at Sentosa, with Mouth Gallery Viewing Deck on the ninth storey, another viewing gallery on its head and Sentosa Merlion Shop, and capable of shining laser beams from its eyes,[17] was closed on 20 October 2019.[18] The area around the statue would be replaced by a S$90 million Sentosa Sensoryscape project targeted to be completed by 2022.[18]

The statues can also be found outside of Singapore in various countries, namely Taiwan, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand.[19]

The Merlion in art and popular culture

Edwin Thumboo's poem on display beside the Merlion statue
Edwin Thumboo's poem on display beside the Merlion statue

In film

In TV series

In gaming

In literature

As mascots and performance characters

In local parlance

In sculpture

Coordinates: 1°17′13.28″N 103°51′16.88″E / 1.2870222°N 103.8546889°E / 1.2870222; 103.8546889

See also


  1. ^ "The Monstrous Merlion: In the Original Sense". Public Art. Archived from the original on 10 September 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2014.
  2. ^ "STB-owned Assets - Merlion Symbol | STB". Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "A new home for the Merlion" (PDF). Skyline (July/August 2000 ed.). URA. pp. 6–8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Sim Lian Huat".
  5. ^ a b c Merlion Restaurant and Bar <>
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 December 2008. Retrieved 8 September 2008.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Miel's illustrations Archived 3 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Sentosa Merlion". Archived from the original on 16 December 2014. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  9. ^ Akshita Nanda (1 March 2011). "Merlion hotel fully booked". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 4 March 2011.
  10. ^ Lim, Kevin; Boyle, John (28 February 2009). "Singapore's iconic Merlion damaged by lightning". Reuters. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  11. ^ "Lightning strikes Merlion". Archived from the original on 5 March 2009.
  12. ^ Team, Goody Feed (10 July 2015). "5 things about the Merlion that you probably did not know". Goody Feed. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Where are the Merlions in Singapore?". Time Out Singapore. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Merlion Park". Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  15. ^ "ROARING FROM COAST TO COAST". Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  16. ^ "Ang Mo Kio Merlions". 23 October 2010.
  17. ^ "Sentosa Merlion". Sentosa. Archived from the original on 1 September 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  18. ^ a b Tay, Tiffany Fumiko (20 September 2019). "Sentosa Merlion to make way for new $90m themed linkway as part of Sentosa-Brani masterplan". The Straits Times. Retrieved 21 September 2019.
  19. ^ Tan, Samuel (22 November 2019). "12 Merlion Statues to check out besides Merlion Park & Sentosa". Trialsaurus. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  20. ^ "「マーライオン今昔物語」~ボクが"世界三大がっかり"から人気者になったワケ~". 18 May 2015.
  21. ^ "「世界三大がっかり」から大きく逸脱するシンガポールのマーライオン".
  22. ^ "世界三大がっかりスポットのシンガポールのマーライオンは本当にがっかりなの?". 青い空の雲.
  23. ^ "【スポット】名スポットから3大がっかりスポットまで!世界の像6選". Huffington Post Japan.[permanent dead link]
  24. ^ Walker, Jodi (29 November 2014). "The Amazing Race recap: 'You're Taking Off My Tan'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  25. ^ "How Araki named Anne - From JOESTAR the Inherited Soul Pamphlet (09/2021)". Twitter. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  26. ^ Wong, Tessa (6 August 2015). "The rise of Singlish - BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  27. ^ "No Merlion in Singapore's Pavilion at Venice Biennale".

Further reading