Manneken Pis Makes Tourists Smile

Mannekin Pis, Brussels

For such a little guy, Manneken Pis certainly makes a big splash with tourists and Belgians. Once visitors have stood in the middle of the Grand Place and enjoyed a bite of Belgian chocolate, they often find their way down to the corner of Rue de l'Étuve & Eikstraat to stare, exchange whispers and timid giggles, and snap their photo with Belgium's famous and irreverant mascot.

What is Manneken Pis?
Manneken Pis (dutch for 'little pee man') and also known as 'Petit Julien' in french, is a 61 centimeter (24-inch) bronze fountain sculpture of a naked boy urinating into the fountain's basin. He enjoys a colorful if not confused history and has more outfits than Imelda Marcos has shoes.

The Origin of Mannekin Pis
History tells us that in the 15th century there was a fountain called “Manneken-Pis” about a hundred yards from the Grand Place. In August of 1619, sculptor Jerome Duquesnoy was commissioned by the city to sculpt a new bronze statue of a Manneken-Pis to replace an old statue. Voila, today's Manneken Pis in all of his glory.

The little tike has survived nearly 400 years of trials and tribulations, having been stolen by prankster students, looted by invaders, and in war time, hidden during bombing raids. Even after all that, he remains Belgium's best-dressed boy with a wardrobe of more than 800 costumes including outfits giving nods to: Napolean, the Boy Scouts, Saint Nicholas and even Elvis. Costumes are kept in the King's House, now the City Museum at the Grand-Place.

The Legends of Mannekin Pis
Although no one really knows the true story that inspired Manneken Pis, rumors abound.

One such story recounts that he was a little boy who tried to douse a fire in the city with the only weapon he had at hand.

Another story claims he was the the lost son of a visiting merchant, who upon learning that the boy was found urinating in the garden, had a statue sculpted to thank the citizens for finding his son.

Yet another favorite but unlikely tale claims the status commemorates Duke Godfrey III of Leuven, a two-year-old lord who in 1142 had troops battling armies of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen. It is said that the little two-year-old lord was placed in a basket hung in a tree to encourage the troops to fight for him. From there, he urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.

Inspiring The Whimsical
Fact or folklore notwithstanding, stories that are true and add to the mischievous nature of Belgian's favorite boy include the following:

1. From time to time, the statue is connected to a keg of beer and the little guy fills cups of beer for the tourists and well-wishers.

2. Explore the many souvenir shops near the Grand Place and you'll find Manneken memorabilia including our personal favorite: the corkscrew! Key rings, postcards and chocolates are also available.

Jeanneke Pis

3. For those demanding equal rights there is also 'Jeanneke Pis' (see photo at right), Manneken Pis' female counterpart located on the east side of the Impasse de la Fidélité/Getrouwheidsgang (Fidelity Alley), a 30-meter dead-end street off the 'restaurant alley' Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat.

4. Stand at the corner of Rue de l'Étuve & Eikstraat long enough, and undoubtedly, you'll find the occasional tourist holding his mouth open while posing for a photo as if the Manneken Pis is providing a well-placed drink of water. While this may be off-putting to some, somehow it seems to be an appropriate sight-gag worthy of the irreverance brought about by Belgium's mischievous Manneken Pis.

How To Get There
1. Go to the Grand Place and face the Hotel Deville (with the really tall spire.)
2. Take the street on the left (Rue de l'Étuve) and walk down past the tapestry, lace, chocolate and souvenir shops until you reach Eikstraat.
3. The little guy is right on your left on the corner.

Manneken Pis isn't shy. In fact, he's right out in the open for all to enjoy free of charge!

And just for fun...
For a 360-degree virtual tour of the Manneken Pis click here.

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