There are some cultural icons that are so important that they come to represent the city such as the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. Very little comes close to the Little Mermaid, but Brussels has an arguably an even larger cultural icon – Mannekin Pis.
It has also called the most disappointing icon in history, since it is so vanishingly small. Then again, it’s name is literally the ‘little pee man’, it is quite apt for its size.
So here’s the story behind Mannekin Pis. There was a fire in the city when the city was still build in wood, a young boy came across the fire and realised that he had to find a way to put out the fire. But there was no water. So he pulled down his pants and let his bodily fluids do the job, putting out the fire and saving the city. In gratitude, the people built a statue for the boy in his apt peeing state.
That’s the myth behind the story anyway. There’s too many flaws behind the logic of the story but let’s keep the romance of the myth as it is.
The actual story is perhaps a lot more tame. It was installed in the 15th century as a water fountain to assist in distributing water to the whole city, and somehow survived the bombardment of Brussels during the Nine Years War. As time passed, the fountain losts its function and became a symbol of what it was to be a native of Brussels. The myth and his survival during the bombardment resembled the rebellious, spirit of Brussels and made Mannekin Pis well loved about the town.
So well loved that on special days, people dress Mannekin Pis up in different costumes. This happens some 4 times a year and he just wore his 1000th costume last year.
The popularity of Mannekin Pis, led to the establishment of two more companions a female version called Jeanneke Pis and a dog version called Zinneke Pis, the Belgians clearly love their peeing statues.
And why not since they are good money spinners too!
Jeanneke Pis in way, is arguably more meaningful (in a modern sense) than Mannekin Pis,. Although it was built in 1985 as a complement to Mannekin Pis the funds paid to the sculptor for this statue went to support cancer research and all the coins tossed into Jeanneke’s fountain go to the same research charity.
When you go to Brussels, check out Mannekin Pis, but do not forget to make sure you round it with a trip to the less seen Jeanneke and Zinneke too!
ON THE MAP (Mannekin Pis)
ON THE MAP (Jeanneke Pis)
ON THE MAP (Zinneke Pis)