Souvenirs from Brussels, Belgium
Visitors to Belgium’s capital of Brussels are often surprised to discover its most famous trademark in the shape of a small scale bronze statue depicting a little boy urinating in one of the City’s old fountains. But the little statue of Manneken-Pis (its original Flemish name), a 1619 creation of local sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy is a representation of the City’s strangeness and sense of absurd. Its symbolism which goes back to historic times of legend and its worldwide fame made the statue a precious Brussels export and a proud reason for annual celebrations. Its image is now beautifully captured by a resin fridge magnet souvenir to keep and cherish.
The Manneken-Pis and the Legends of Brussels
Legends behind the statue range from medieval battle stories to prosaic ones. It is said that a little boy saved the town from being burned down by its attackers in the 14th century by urinating on the fuse and as a thanksgiving a stone statue was erected in the 15th century. Another popular legend claims that a merchant lost his son while on a visit to Brussels only to find him urinating in one of the city’s gardens. Grateful for the locals’ help, the father had a fountain built to cherish the happy ending event. Still, the most notorious story about Manneken-Pis’s origin is linked to Duke Godfrey III of Leuven battle of 1142, when he was only two years old. His army was fighting the lords of Grimbergen in Ransbeke when the soldiers placed the toddler into a basket high up a tree. During the fights, the little boy urinated on the enemy troops who lost the battle in the end.
Dressing up for the Brussels Party
One of the most eccentric traditions of Brussels is the dressing up of the Manneken-Pis according to a public schedule to celebrate his large collection of hundreds of costumes permanently displayed in the Grand Place’s City Museum. One of the local NGOs has the responsibility of selecting the clothes designs which range from Santa Claus and Elvis Presley to historical characters and world national costumes. This has its roots in an old 17th century tradition when following one of the attacks on Brussels, the Prince of Bavaria gave the little boy its first costume (still to be exhibited today). The dressing up of the statue is often accompanied by cheerful ceremonies and old music and on special occasions, Belgian beer flowing from the statue is given away to passengers to mark the City’s unique style.
Manneken-Pis, the Protector of Brussels
Manneken-Pis has played an important role throughout the City’s history: the drinking water fountain from the 15th century was used as a water conveyor up until the 19th century. It is said to have survived the 1695 siege of Brussels by Louis XIV, when it was hidden in a shelter. After this date, a Latin psalm was added to mark its role in protecting the City and at the end of the 18th century, Rococo style elements were added to the statue to further celebrate its symbolism of joy, self irony and resistance.The little boy has been stolen several times: in the 18th century by a French soldier (as a compensation, French soldiers were forced to salute the Manneken-Pis when passing by) and in 1817 when it was cut into pieces by a prisoner. Nevertheless, the Manneken-Pis statue is not unique: versions of the famous urinating little boy disputing the statue’s authenticity can be found in other Belgian towns and even across the globe from Indonesia to United States and Brazil.