The corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue de Vieux-Marche in the heart of the old town is the home of one of the most peculiar attractions of Brussels. It is the small bronze statue of a little naked boy pissing in a fountain known as the Manneken Pis. He has no wings and is busy in pissing since time unknown and is producing a clear trickle. He is placed on a pedestal, en-hunting in a tasteful shell and secured by an iron gate. The small bronze statue of the little man, known as the ‘peeing little man,’ or the ‘peeing boy’, is a beloved landmark in Brussels and is the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels.
The reference of the Manneken Pis was first mentioned in the archives dating back to 1452. But before that, he was named ‘Petit Julien’ or ‘little Julien’ and was a part of a public fountain on the same street corner. Later, the stone statue was replaced by a bronze sculpture made by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder, in 1619.The current statue is a copy which dates from 1965.The original is kept in the Museum of the City of Brussels.
There are several fascinating legends associated with Manneken Pis. Some say that the statue is inspired by a legend regarding the 12th century battle between the troops of Duke Godfrey III of Leuven and the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen. During that battle of 1142, Godfrey III was only two years old and the commander of his troops hung a basket with the little lord on a tree branch to encourage the soldiers. According to the legend, baby Godfrey urinated on the troops of the Berthouts who eventually lost the battle. Another legend claims that sometime in 14th century Brussels was under the siege by a foreign power and the enemy soldiers planned to blow up the city walls by placing a bomb near its foundations. But, unknown to them a little boy named ‘Julianske’ happened to be spying on them and he simply urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city from impending devastation. According to another story, a wealthy merchant, during his visit to the city with his family, suddenly lost the track of his beloved little son. The desperate father immediately organized a search party, and turned the city upside-down, until the little one was found happily urinating in a garden. As a token of gratitude to the locals, who helped out during the search, the merchant arranged to build the fountain for them.
The statue fortunately survived the bombardment of Brussels by the French army during 1695, though the water pipes were affected and remained dry for some time. In 1770, when the column and the double rectangular basin disappeared, the statue was integrated into a new decor, in the form of a stone recess.
As per records, Manneken Pis has been stolen and retrieved several times. In 1745, it was stolen by the English soldiers and subsequently found in the city of Geraardsbergen. Another attempted theft was made in 1747 by a group of French army stationed in Brussels. The ordinary people of the city became very much agitated at it and threatened a bloody revenge. To gain the control over the situation and pacify the agitated mass, the King of France, Louis XV, made an intelligent move. He gifted an expensive gown of brocade embroidered with gold, to Manneken Pis, and decorated him with the Cross of St Louis. He also authorised him to carry the sword. Manneken Pis experienced two more attempted thefts in 1955 and 1957. On a cold winter’s night in 1963, it was stolen by the Antwerp Student’s Union ‘de Wikings, as a joke, but also as a means to raise money for a good cause. Since it was done for a good cause, the students were not punished.
Unfortunately, the statue was stolen again in 1965 and was broken to pieces by the miscreant. However, in the month of June 1966, tipped by an anonymous phone call, the body of the statue was recovered by the divers from Charleroi Canal. It was brought back to Brussels on 27th June, restored and the original version was sheltered in the Museum of the City of Brussels. The statue that now stands on the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue de Vieux-Marche, is an identical copy.
The little Manneken Pisis owns a fantastic wardrobe. It gets redressed several times each week and it is a tradition to dress the little bronze statue with special costumes on special occasions. An association of a friendly society, Friends of Manneken Pis, takes care of its costumes. The society receives hundreds of suggestions from the fans each year and a handful gets made and used. Apart from his historical costumes, his wardrobe also contains modern costumes, such as a Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus costume.
It is really interesting to note that, today, the little peeing boy, the little Julien, is not the only peeing statue in Brussels. In 1987, a little peeing girl named Jeanneke Pis joined him in the series. Her half a metre tall statue in the blue-gray limestone can be found surrounded by iron bars near the Rue des Bouchers. The third statue, the statue of a bronze dog was placed in 1998, on the sidewalk of the Rue de Chartreux.