‘Manneken Pis’: the most famous little man of Brussels

María Muñoz Morillo
Published on Tuesday 131210
If you have ever been to Brussels you probably have visited the famed Manneken Pis.

So did Ruben and Fernando. Two young Spaniards, who came to Brussels for a couple of days. They have visited the most important places and this tour includes, of course, our loved Manneken Pis.                                                                                             

The first impression of most of the visitors is that the statue is too small, I remember the first time I saw it, my face perfectly showed the disappointment at the size of the statue… But then when you get used to it, you understand that, somehow, the statue’s charm lies in its small size. But as Ruben told me ‘it’s not that bad the Manneken is too small because this way they can dress him like an elfie’.                                                                                            

Valerie and Mathew, a couple from the United States, confess they would dress him like a leprechaun, however, they would change his location because to their mind ‘he is hidden away and it’s kind of difficult to find him’.

As we can notice the Manneken Pis, the most famous statue in Belgium is a must for all the tourists who come to Brussels. This national symbol of only 61 cm was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the elder and it represents a little child urinating. This bronze statue was made in 1619 and it has had a turbulent existence: he was kidnapped for the first time by the English in 1745. Two years later the French stole him. In 1817, the statue was taken again, this time by a French convict, who broke it into pieces. The fragments were used to make the new statue which we can visit today on the old fountain.

But, as I have seen, very few people know where the Manneken comes from. There are several legends that explain the origin of this curious statue. Let’s immerse ourselves in Belgium’s traditional history.                                                                                                              

Maybe the most famous tale is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. This little lord was 2 years old when, in 1142, his troops were battling against the ones of the Berthouts, lords of Grimbergen. The companionship put the infant lord in a basket and suspended it in a tree to encourage their souls. From there, the boy urinated on the army of the Berthouts, who at the end lost the battle.

Another traditional story tells that in the 14th century Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The invaders developed a plan for setting explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy, whose name was Julianske, was spying on them as they were preparing it. He urinated on the burning fuse and this way saved the city and all its population.

On the other hand we have the story which is explained to every tourist. A wealthy merchant missed his little son when he was visiting the city. He formed a search party and finally they found the boy urinating in a small garden. The merchant built a fountain as a gift of gratitude to all the locals who helped him in finding his dear son.

There is another fable that narrates how a women missed her child when she was buying things. She panicked at the loss of her beloved son so she called everyone, even the city major, to help her find her little boy. At last they found the boy urinating on the corner of a street. The story became well-known and they built a statue so that the fable was not forgotten.

And finally, the most magical, but also most unlikely, option... A legend tells that the kid was urinating in the door of a witch. She enraged at him and turned him into statue.

After asking several people, I think that what they like most are the Manneken’s costumes. This tradition started in 1698 when the Elector of Bavaria gave him a costume. The Manneken’s wardrobe now contains around 8000 costumes. Tourists made some suggestions regarding to his costumes; they would dress him as a baby, a mariachi or as a star of the 70’s.

As we can see, the size of Manneken Pis may be disappointing at first sight but once you leave Brussels it’ll remain in your mind forever.