Along the streets leading away from Brussels’ majestic Grande Place (or Grote Markt), one finds several waffle shops and chocolatiers, the buttery and sweet scents wafting through the streets. Yet, in a very insignificant street stands Brussels’ famous icon, relieving himself in front of all to see. Yes, the little Manneken-Pis (literally meaning Little Man Pee) has been urinating on the street corner for the past few hundred years. Although the original statue is kept in the Maison du Roi or Broodhuis (situated on the Grande Place), the replica (which was placed there in 1965) is still entertaining to observe, with his never ending stream of water splashing in the fountain below. But to me, the best part of this little laughing boy entertaining the flocks of people crowding around him, trying to get a picture of him AND them together, is not only the reaction of people spotting him for the first time, but his attire.
|Manneken-Pis in a very cute outfit - see how tiny he is!? In this photo and the photo below he is dressed in horse riding gear (he is a Cavalier of the Cercle Royal d'Oxer - Royal riding academy)|
But before I begin, let me first share a few of the legends about the origin of Manneken Pis;
One states that in the 12th century Duke Godfrey III of Leuven was taken to battle along with his troops and was placed in a cradle and hung from an oak tree in order to bring the troops good luck and to encourage them. He then urinated onto the enemy. Duke Godrey’s troops eventually won the battle. To commemorate their victory the oak tree was taken and planed in the street of the same name (Rue du Chene/Eikstraat) and a statue of the little boy was erected.
Another says that in the 8th century , Vindicien, Bishop of Arras, came to preach in Brussels. The local lord invited the Bishop to stay with him – his alterior motive being that he wanted the Bishop to pray and intercede with God on his behalf in order for him to have a male heir. Nine months later a baby boy was born whose first act was to “pee so high” that it hit the Bishop’s beard. Before the baptism of the baby boy after a quarrel with one Gudula (who later became a Saint – the Our Lady Cathedral in Brussels is named after her) the future saint punished the father of baby boy by saying “Your only son will grow no bigger and will never stop peeing”.
And my preferred legend : In the 14th century when Brussels was under siege, a little boy, Julianske, caught sight of the enemy preparing to place explosive charges at the city walls. The little boy then urinated on the burning fuse, saving the city from destruction.
|On 11 October Manneken Pis wore a yellow ribbon around his eyes, reading "Lumière pour le monde" (light for the world), for World Sight Day.|
Now, for his outfits…
Many embassies, sister cities, artists, workers and worker unions, sportsmen and so forth have given miniature outfits, suits or costumes to “honour” the little boy. Today the little statue has more than 800 outfits! Most of them are displayed in the City Museum of Brussels (on the Grande Place). The Friends of Manneken Pis posts a schedule of when he is going to wear different outfits on the gate in front of the statue. They are also responsible for dressing him, usually to the loud music of a brass band playing exciting melodies. He is usually dressed in some attire during festivities and days that honour various worksmen, such as firefighters, policemen etc. There is even a Nelson Mandela outfit and a fantastic South Africa outfit, equipped with gumboots and a hard hat. There’s an Elvis outfit, a Canadian Ice Hockey player, an Obelix outfit (from Asterix and Obelix) and several different quirky and traditional ones.
|Manneken Pis as St Niklaas (Saint Nicholas, who became known as Santa Claus).|
|Manneken Pis wearing a fire fighter outfit|
|Manneken Pis as St Niklaas|
|A festive fire fighter|
|Close Up of Manneken Pis dressed in traditional equestrian gear.|
An exciting day in Brussels is during Saint Verhaegen celebrations, where the students of the ULB and VUB (Université Libre de Bruxelles, a French speaking university and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, it’s Flemmish speaking counterpart) have a procession along the streets of Brussels in their traditional university attire (basically they just have an excuse to party and drink beer, something which the Belgians tend to do a lot – I don’t think most of the students even know what the reason behind Saint-V day is!). The students are dressed in large-billed caps, white doctors’ jackets scribbled over with messages from friends and they usually walk around, begging for beer money. You see them throwing each other with beer and food, hence the not so clean jackets. But what does this have to do with Manneken-Pis? Well, on this day he is dressed not only in the students’ attire but he pees beer! Yes, real authentic Belgian beer! Sometimes it squirts out over the fences, soaking the students, all raising their hands to catch some of the beer. And all the while a band joins the festivities playing their loud music for the laughing boy peeing beer! Young and old join together in the festivities. It is very entertaining to see!
|Manneken Pis wearing a traditional ULB/VUB outfit|
|The ocean of heads before the little boy's statue|
|Manneken Pis as a VUB student (above)|
Festive students, old and young (below)
So, have you seen Manneken-Pis and what is your impression of him? Do you like him or don’t you see why everybody is going crazy about him? And if you have seen him dressed up, what did he wear? Or what is your favourite Manneken-Pis outfit?
Where to find him: 46 Rue de l’Etuve/ 46 Stoofstraat (on the corner of Rue de l’Etuve and Rue du Chene/Eikstraat) If you stand on the Grande Place, facing the City Hall or Hotel de Ville (the building with the big tower), take the left side street passing by the City Hall (Rue Charles Buls/Charles Buls straat). (There will be a statue of Everhard 't Serclaes on your left – if you rub the golden statue, you will supposedly get good luck!) Continue straight with the street. You’ll know you are near Manneken Pis because of 1) the tourists flocking to see the little boy 2) there is a pedestrian street (no cars allowed) and 3) you will see a big blue Tin Tin Mural prancing on the right hand side.
Below are a few photos of vintage postcards that I couldn’t resist to buy (€8 for 20)
from the Brussels City Museum. Absolutely adorable!