Warsaw is situated over 300 km (200 miles) from the closest sea coast. Therefore, it seems strange that the city should adopt a mermaid as its symbol. Nevertheless, city records as far back as 1609 document the use of a crude form of a sea monster with a female upper body and holding a sword in its claws. The emblem gradually evolved into the present day form. It appears on a shield on every municipal building, on buses, trams and taxis. Needless to say, during 50 years of communist rule, the crown was removed from the "Syrena" and also from the national emblem – the White Eagle.
There was a legend about Wawel Dragon from the second capital of Poland – Cracow (first was Gniezno). And now came time to tell you, how was created third and current capital: Warsaw.
There are a couple of legends about Wars and Sawa; they emerged because, truthfully, nobody knows where the name of the capital comes from. Only two things are certain: Wars and Sawa used to live beside the beautiful Wisła River, and the beginning of the town is connected with the hospitality and good hearts of these local residents.
I will introduce three versions of the legend to you.
This is the first version, which I heard when I was a little, and which – by the way – I like the most.
Wars and Sawa
Long, long time ago, when Poland was still wild, there was small village above Wisła river. There lived kind people, who all days spent with their work: fishing.
One evening, when one of them – Wars – took his web and fishes to go home, because night was coming, he heard quiet song coming from old willows, washing their branches in water of river. He sat again and listened. It was beautiful song. Supernatural. Like it wasn't sang by human. Wars couldn't understand lyrics, but he thought it's a song about wildness, life and beauty of nature. He loved that. As much, as he forgot about world around.
Finally song stopped suddenly. It was like a cold water on head for Wars, who realized it's deep night, he must go back home across wild and dangerous forest, to his small house in the end of the village.
But anyway he told to himself he'll go back here tomorrow. He must hear this song again. And again…
So next evening, when everything was done already, Wars sat above river and waited.
Suddenly he heard that song again. Closer then yesterday. And beautier. As beautiful, as he had to stand up and go there… Go, closer to that voice… He must see owner of that silver bell in throat…
He didn't know, where he was and how did he came here. Even what time could it be. But finally he saw, who was singing. He saw the beautiest lady in the world. She had long golden hair, skin as white as snow… or pearls… yes, like pearls. It was shining in moonlight. As was shining her… Fish tail.
When he saw that tail, he moved in first though he had: RUN! But the second though told him to stay.
Unfortunately she heard rustle of leaves so she jumped and disappeared under water.
Wars was waiting for her every evening, with hope she'll be back, but she didn't. Visibly she thought he's dangerous.
And then, after few years, when Wars lost all his hope and even almost forgot about his eerie adventure, to his ears again flew almost forgotten sound.
He took his web and fast get to the place, where from came the song. And he again saw the most beautiful woman in the world. This time he was ready for what he'll see, so he didn't move when she shown her silver tail.
Suddenly he jumped and caught her into his fish web. She was screaming and crying, trying to escape, but she couldn't.
Wars took her to his house… and started to think, why actually he caught her. What told him to do that?
Silver tears flew on mermaid's face. She looked at him with so much sadness in her blue eyes…
– Let me go – whispered the siren. – Please, let me go. Why did you do that?
Wars wondered and wondered… and finally the answer came to him.
– Because I love you.
– So if you truly love me, you must let me go. I can't live without water, without swimming and nature. I'll die here, in prison.
– But I can't live without you.
– So I will die because you want to have me inside your house? I can come to you and sing each evening, if you want. I can defend you and your village so nothing will hurt you. But let me go.
Wars couldn't stand her cry anymore. He took her again above the river and let her go.
– What's your name?! – he asked.
– Sawa! – she told and disappeared in gray water of Wisła river.
Since that day Sawa was singing for Wars and his children, then their children… And defending them if there was any danger. To this day.
Now on that place is a big city, Warszawa (Warsaw), named like that because of names of two lovers: WarsSawa. In emblem of the city is a mermaid with shield and sword.
Wars and Sawa were characters from other legend – they were fishmen, who feed king or prince, and he gave them that land for their own.
Or Wars and Sawa were twins, who were born in fishmen's house when that hungry king or prince came. He gave them their names.
Whatever is "true", we have few mermaids in Warsaw. One of them is in Old Town – it's a fountain.
The second is in Markiewicz downward slope, sculptural adornment, emblem of the City of Warsaw
The third is above Wisła river. Here you can see her with the river.
In other version king Kazimierz Odnowiciel (Casimir the Restorer), while on his way from Cracow to Gniezno, came across a poor fisherman’s hut.
The hungry king found his way to the hut thanks to the smoke and the smell of fresh food. As he was having some fish from the night’s catch, the fisherman told the king the story of his family which had just recently grown bigger thanks to the arrival of two marvellous twins.
The poor fisherman and his wife could not baptise the babies, though, because there was no church in the area. The king, who had really enjoyed the meal, wanted to pay the peasants with gold, but they, according to the old Polish tradition of hospitality, refused to take any payment.
Then the king asked them for one more favour – he asked to be the twins’ godfather at their baptism that he would organize. An altar was set up on a hill, and a priest commissioned by King Kazimierz named the twins Wars (the boy) and Sawa (the girl). And King Kazimierz announced that Pietrko Rybak (Peter Fisherman) would from then on be called Piotr Wars, the royal fisherman, the father of Wars and Sawa, and the owner of the vast forest.
The king also told him that one day, when a village began to take shape near his hut, that he should give it a name derived from his new surname – and that the village would carry that name forever.
Another version of the legend says that a long, long time ago there was a tiny hut standing at the shores of the Vistula River. Wars, a fisherman, and his wife Sawa lived there. One day a hunt was organized in the area and Prince Ziemomysł, the owner of the estate, got lost in the forest.
He wandered around for many days and many nights and he finally reached the fisherman’s hut. Wars and Sawa made the stranger welcome and in the morning the grateful prince said, ‘You didn’t hesitate to take in a stranger and save him from hunger, cold and wild animals. Therefore this land will forever be called Warsaw, so your kindness can never be forgotten’.