SINGAPORE – 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 its adjacent Pulau Brani a facelift.
Members of the public will be able to visit the Merlion until Oct 20.
Here are six things to know about one of Singapore’s most famous icons:
1. A 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, which is 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. THE 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 moved 120m away from its original position in 2002.
At 8m tall and weighing 70 tonnes, the creature now stands at Merlion Park, overlooking the Marina Bay.
The statue is not alone. Its cub, which is a quarter of the original’s height and has porcelain plates and bowls included in its design, sits some distance behind it.
It also accompanied the larger statue when it was previously at the Singapore River.
The main Merlion was closed to the public due to restoration works from February to May this year.
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. Flanking the entrance of a carpark that leads to Blocks 216 to 222, the creatures were built in 1998 for $30,000 by the Ang Mo Kio Residential Committee.
4. SENTOSA MERLION WAS BUILT IN 1995
Designed by Australian sculptor James Martin and constructed in 1995, the $8 million statue in Sentosa is the tallest Merlion here.
Visitors pay $6.20 to $18 to enter the 37m-tall Merlion , which houses exhibits such as a 3D-animated story of how Sang Nila Utama discovered Singapore.
They can also enjoy views of the city skyline and Sentosa by looking out from the Merlion’s head or mouth.
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 being open for reservations.
The month-long art installation, commissioned for the Singapore Biennale, was situated next to the Fullerton Hotel.
6. GUEST APPEARANCES OVERSEAS
Besides being one of Singapore’s national icons, the Merlion is popular overseas, with some countries 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 exactly the same height as the original statue here.
It was erected in 1989, with the blessing of the STB’s predecessor, at the 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 Gardens in Tateyama, Chiba, to show its association with the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
The creature also 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 enjoying a visit to Singapore.
Sources: The Straits Times, Roots.sg, National Library Board, One Faber Group website