6 things to know about the Merlion

The Sentosa Merlion lit up during a Merlion Magic Lights show in 2017. Built in 1995, the $8 million statue, with a height of 37m, is the tallest Merlion in Singapore. PHOTO: SENTOSA The Sentosa Merlion being cleaned with hot water by an abseiling cr
The Sentosa Merlion being cleaned with hot water by an abseiling crew in 2015 and visitors taking selfies with the icon recently (above).ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
The Sentosa Merlion lit up during a Merlion Magic Lights show in 2017. Built in 1995, the $8 million statue, with a height of 37m, is the tallest Merlion in Singapore. PHOTO: SENTOSA The Sentosa Merlion being cleaned with hot water by an abseiling cr
The Sentosa Merlion being cleaned with hot water by an abseiling crew in 2015 (above) and visitors taking selfies with the icon recently.TNP FILE PHOTO

The tallest Merlion statue in Singapore will make way for a themed linkway between the north and south shores of Sentosa as part of plans to give the resort island and the adjacent Pulau Brani a facelift. Members of the public will be able to visit the Sentosa Merlion until Oct 20. Prisca Ang lists six things about one of Singapore's most famous icons.

1. HOMAGE TO MYTHS

With a lion's head and a fish's body, the Merlion was designed in 1964 by British zoologist Alec Fraser-Brunner to be the logo of the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, now the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

The fish is supposed to allude to the country's beginnings as a "fishing village" - a narrative since debunked by historical records which show Singapore was a thriving harbour as early as the 14th century.

The lion is a reference to Sang Nila Utama, the Srivijaya prince who claimed he named the island Singapura, or "lion city" in Sanskrit, after spotting the animal. Lions, however, have never been native to this region.

2. ORIGINAL STATUE WAS AT THE SINGAPORE RIVER

The original statue of the creature, at the mouth of the Singapore River, was made by sculptor Lim Nang Seng and unveiled by the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1972.

It was designed by Mr Kwan Sai Kheong, the late ambassador to the Philippines and former vice-chancellor of the University of Singapore, now the National University of Singapore.

The view of the Merlion was obstructed when the Esplanade Bridge was built in 1997, so the statue was moved 120m away from its original position in 2002.

At 8m tall and weighing 70 tonnes, the statue now stands at Merlion Park, overlooking Marina Bay.

It is not alone. Its cub statue, which is a quarter of the original's height and is inlaid with porcelain plates and bowls, sits some distance behind it.

 SENTOSA The Sentosa Merlion being cleaned with hot water by an abseiling cr
The Sentosa Merlion lit up during a Merlion Magic Lights show in 2017. Built in 1995, the $8 million statue, with a height of 37m, is the tallest Merlion in Singapore. PHOTO: SENTOSA

The cub statue had also accompanied the larger one when they were previously at the Singapore River.

The main Merlion was closed to the public for restoration works from February to May.

3. THERE ARE SEVEN MERLIONS IN SINGAPORE

There are a total of seven Merlions in Singapore, including the Sentosa Merlion and the two statues at Merlion Park.

Two of the other four statues, at 3m tall, are at the peak of Mount Faber and the STB headquarters near Grange Road.

The remaining two Merlions are a pair in the heartland, in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1. They flank the entrance of a carpark that leads to Blocks 216 to 222 and were built in 1998 for $30,000 by the Ang Mo Kio Residents' Committee.

4. SENTOSA MERLION WAS BUILT IN 1995

Designed by Australian sculptor James Martin and built in 1995, the $8 million statue in Sentosa is the tallest Merlion in Singapore.

The 37m-tall Merlion houses exhibits such as a three-dimensional animated story of how Sang Nila Utama discovered Singapore.

Until it closes, Singapore residents can pay discounted prices of $7.50 (for adults) and $6.20 (for children) to visit it. Local seniors aged 60 and above will get free entry simply by flashing their NRIC at the entrance.

5. SLEEPING WITH THE MERLION

In 2011, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi designed a pop-up hotel which featured the original statue enclosed in a luxury suite.

It was fully booked within an hour of reservations starting.

The month-long art installation, commissioned for the Singapore Biennale, was situated next to The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.

6. GUEST APPEARANCES OVERSEAS

Besides being one of Singapore's national icons, the Merlion is also popular overseas, with countries such as Japan replicating the mythical creature.

In Hakodate, a statue of the Merlion stands as a symbol of friendship between Hokkaido's third-largest city and Singapore.

At 8.6m, it is the same height as the original statue here.

It was erected in 1989, with the blessing of the STB's predecessor, at Nanaehama beach as a guardian deity for navigation safety, watching over ships that travel to the port of Hakodate.

There is also a Merlion at the Nambo Paradise Botanical Garden in Tateyama, Chiba, to show its association with the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The creature seems to be popular among the Japanese.

In a Facebook post in 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared how he came across Singapore's tourism icon at a kimono shop in Karuizawa, a resort town near Nagano. The shop owner told him that he had purchased the shoulder-height statue some 35 years ago after a visit to Singapore.

Sources: The Straits Times, Roots.sg, National Library Board, One Faber Group website

SEE FORUM

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2019, with the headline '6 things to know about the Merlion'. Print Edition | Subscribe