Usually, after doing the traditional “Grand Place-Chocolate-Beer” tour, tourists in Brussels head to a tiny street hidden behind the Grand Place to meet one of the most famous inhabitants of Brussels.
The Manneken Pis can literally be translated to “Little Man Pee,” and is known as “Petit Julien” in French. It is a 61 centimeter (24-inch) bronze fountain statue of a naked boy urinating into a basin, its second (and current) version was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and put in its present site between 1618 - 1619. The blue stone niche was added in 1770. Previously, the statuette rested on a six feet high column conceived by the stone cutter Daniel Raessens.
The origin of the Manneken Pis
A few centuries ago, the fountain where the Manneken Pis is located was just one of the many that supplied potable water to the city. The fountain itself has quite a bit of history. In fact, the first historical text to talk about it dates to 1388. The text, coming from the Sint-Gudula Church archives announces that a stone statue called "Small Julien" (Petit Julien), that supplied water, could be found at the corner of "Rue de l'Etuve" and "Rue du Chêne." The name 'Manneken-Pis' appears for the first time in the City archives in a text dating between 1451-1452.
The legends that surround the Manneken Pis are various and diverse. It is hard to count them all or deduce which one is the closest to the truth, but most people in Brussels know at least a couple of the stories.
The first one, which has a historical background, is about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of the then two-year-old duke were battling against the lords of Grimbergen. To encourage the troops, soldiers hung the young duke's baby basket to a tree. The story goes that the child then urinated on the enemy's troops, who ended up losing the battle.
Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. One day, a little boy called Julianske heard that the enemy planned to burn down the city. Hearing that, he tried to save the city with his one and only weapon, his urine.
The third one is similar to the previous one. It tells the story of a young boy who was awakened by a fire and proceeded to extinguish it with his urine. With this one action, he saved the entire city, including the king's castle, from burning down.
Nowadays, with little concern regarding the legends, Belgian people still enjoy celebrations around their little Manneken Pis.
The statue is often dressed in costumes to celebrate different events around the country and the world. His wardrobe consists of several hundred different costumes that can be seen in a permanent exhibition inside the City Museum. His wardrobe includes the national dress of other nations, sports uniforms, professional uniforms and many more. The costumes are managed by a non-profit association called “Friends of Manneken Pis,” who also oversee the costume changing ceremony, which is often accompanied by brass band music.
On occasion, usually for the Annual Beer Festival, the fountain is filled with beer and those passing by are offered free beer from the fountain.
Nobody really knows why the Manneken Pis is so famous. If you ask around about its reputation and origin, you are sure to hear many different stories - none of which are totally true. You can also see the little boy's statue 10 times, and it will always look a little different. The only sure thing about the Manneken Pis is that its fame is not going away anytime soon. As the pride of Brussels, its residents are always watching out for it, spreading its folklore and ensuring its success amongst foreigners.