I had never heard of the Manneken Pis before this trip. I think I may have been the last tourist in the world not to have heard of the statue! There are signs for it everywhere in Brussels, and I was stopped twice by people on the street who wanted directions to it. A large crowd was gathered by it every time I passed by.
The famous fountain with its statue of a little boy gleefully peeing was cast in 1619 and ever since has been the subject of legend. I’m going to be lazy now and copy a few of the stories from Wikipedia:
There are several legends behind this statue, but the most famous is the one about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven. In 1142, the troops of this two-year-old lord were battling against the troops of the Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen. The troops put the infant lord in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them. From there, the boy urinated on the troops of the Berthouts, who eventually lost the battle.
Another legend states that in the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power. The city had held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls. A little boy named Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing. He urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city.
Another legend tells of the young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine, in the end this helped stop the king’s castle from burning down.
And so on, exhausting every possible reason why a two-foot statue of a little boy urinating could be so important!
The statue is dressed up on a regular basis in one of the hundreds of costumes that have been created for it. Contests are held to design costumes, and countries donate versions of their national dress. A selection of the costumes is on display at the city museum.
The Manneken Pis is recreated thousands of times over in shop windows. There are paperweights, snow globes, garden fountains, etc. I was not tempted to buy one :)
He is also a bit of a pop icon, as you can see from some of the photos.