Brussels' Unique Symbol

Sunday, March 06, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Brussels, Belgium.  

On Saturday (day 5), we searched for a couple of letterboxes and planted one of our own in Amsterdam before boarding a train for the 2.5-hour trip to Brussels.  We explored the city on Sunday and on Monday took a day trip to Bruges by train. Then it was back to Brussels to prepare for our departure to Luxembourg on Tuesday.
In the heart of historic Brussels is a well-known landmark. Visitors throng to see this remarkable and famous statue, one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Brussels has adopted the statue its iconic emblem.
If you're picturing a large and elegant monument like New York's Statue of Liberty, you're on the wrong track.  Brussels sort of went in a different direction. 

Their historic and beloved statue is only two feet tall.  Standing on top of a curved ledge, the sculpture was initially part of a fountain that played an essential role in the distribution of drinking water as early as the 15th century. The original version of the statue was a stone creation dating back to 1388.  The current bronze rendition was put in place around 1619.  
A symbol of the rebellious city of Brussels and one of its most beloved icons is a statue of a naked little boy urinating into a fountain.  Called Manneken Pis (little man peeing), the statue is one of Brussels' most famous attractions.  His location is noted on all maps of the city. 
Several stories attempt to explain the origin of Manneken Pis. Some say the fountain was erected in thanksgiving by a father who had lost his little boy, only to find him two days later urinating on the corner where the statue now stands. Another myth claims that during a seige of the city in the 14th century, an unknown boy prevented explosives from damaging the city walls by dousing the fuse, and the fountain was erected in gratitude.  In yet another tale, a young boy awoke to the smell of smoke. After locating the fire he urinated on the flames, saving the king's castle from burning to the ground, and the king had the statue erected in his honor.
Over his long lifespan, Manneken Pis has had many adventures.  He has been kidnapped a number of times, perhaps most famously by French soldiers in 1745.  To make amends, King Louis XV knighted the boy, had him sent home to Brussels, and sent a costume for the statue as a gift.
The king was only the first head of state to donate a costume to this famous boy.  The city museum of Brussels houses more than 800 costumes which have been given to Manneken Pis-- from judo attire to an Elvis Presley costume, all with a slit in the needed spot.  The museum exhibits 100 of the costume on replica statues as a representative selection from all over the world.   The little boy wears various of these costumes on a regular basis and his costume schedule is published so his fans can make their visiting plans.
Like so many other iconic symbols, Manneken Pis has his share of exploitation.  Souvenir sellers offer a likeness of this little boy in most any form a collector might wish to find, from the expected (an operating fountain) to the bizarre.
When it comes to souvenirs, taste is no object.
If this example isn't bad enough, consider the whiskey dispenser (you know what the spout is).  And perhaps the worst iteration is the chocolate Manneken Pis.  It's bad enough to bite the ear off a chocolate bunny or the head off an animal cracker, but who would want a chocolate Manneken Pis? 

Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries, a covered shopping area (mall) built in the 1840s

Guild halls on Brussels Grand Square

The magnificent Brussels city hall