You’ve probably heard of Manneken Pis (the centuries-old peeing boy), but you might not know that he has a sister (Jeanneke Pis) and even a dog (Het Zinneke).
So, if you’re wondering, “What’s with all the peeing statues in Brussels?” then keep reading to find out more about them including their histories, stories and secrets. Enjoy!
Peeing Statues in Brussels: Secrets & Legends Revealed
1. Manneken Pis
Manneken Pis (roughly translated as ‘Little Peeing Man’ or ‘Petit Julien’ to go by his French name) is the most popular and well-known of all the peeing statues in Brussels.
You’ll find him on the corner of Rue de l’Étuve and Rue du Chêne. Don’t miss the fantastic street art murals just around the corner from him!
This sweet little bronze fountain of a boy enjoying a wee who also has curls to rival any angelic cherub, and chubby cheeks that you just know your grandma would love to pinch, is now considered something of a mascot for Brussels.
He’s even given his very own twee outfits on various occasions and there’s an entire museum (the GardeRobe MannekenPis), which is dedicated to his clothes.
Top Tip: You can get discounted entry to this museum among others with a Brussels city card.
Other than the stunning gilded buildings of Grand-Place, Manneken Pis is the most visited attraction in Brussels.
But while you’ve likely heard of this bizarre symbol of Brussels, you might not know about all the legends and interesting stories that surround him.
Like how Manneken Pis has been stolen multiple times over the years. Or that there’s a dispute between Brussels and Geraardsbergen over which Belgian city has the oldest Manneken Pis (because yes, there’s another one!)
Here are my favourite tales about Manneken Pis. (I hope you enjoy having a giggle at them almost as much as I did!)
Manneken Pis Legends
So, where exactly did the idea for a peeing boy fountain even come from anyway? As can be expected from a 400-year-old statue, legends abound.
Some say that in the eighth century, a baby’s father threatened the virtue of a local noblewoman who became known as Saint Gudula in later years. She cursed the father and chased him away, saying: “Your only son will never grow again and will continue to urinate for eternity!”
Could this be the inspiration for the little peeing boy made hundreds of years later? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Other legends involve a young child peeing against a witch’s door and instantly turning to stone.
While my favourites (and the most common retellings) involve a boy peeing on a gunpowder fuse – or better still – on the literal helmets of enemies when Brussels was under siege.
So the legend goes that there was a battle in the 12th century between Duke Godfrey III of Leuven and Berthouts, the lords of Grimbergen.
Little Godfrey was only two years old when he inherited his duchy and was having a terrible old time of holding it in… so he ended up peeing on the enemy.
This subversive act of peeing in public may just have saved the entire city!
But no matter what stories inspired Jérome Duquesnoy I to create Manneken Pis in 1619, incredible tales surrounding this weird little statue don’t end there.
Manneken Pis Kidnappings
Since its creation in the 1600s, Brussels’ famous Manneken Pis statue has been stolen – or is it kidnapped? – at least four times!
English soldiers were the first to steal the statue in 1745. It was later found in a nearby town.
Then in 1747, Louis XV of France reprimanded some of his grenadiers who stole the Manneken, but who also unintentionally almost provoked a riot at the same time because this little statue was so loved by the people of Brussels.
Thankfully, the French King had the good sense to return the little boy – and even clothed him in a luxurious gold brocade outfit (his second out of what is now over 1,000 costumes today) to make amends.
Next came a kidnapping in 1963 – a prank by students from Antwerp University.
Finally, the last known kidnapping was just a couple of years later in 1965. On this fatal kidnapping, the sweet beloved statue was found a year later, broken into two pieces.
And so the city decided to replace the fountain’s Manneken Pis with a replica and place the original statue (now fixed) in the Brussels City Museum where he still stands on display today.
Manneken Pis Pees More Than Just Water
While Manneken Pis is most known for peeing water, there have been occasions when this has been replaced by Belgian beer (because… beer!) and even milk in support of World Milk Day and dairy farmers in West Africa who aren’t paid fairly.
Something else you might not know is that Manneken Pis was (up until very recently) hooked up to a clean drinking water supply and the city’s sewers, which meant for years and years, he was wasting anything from 1,000 to 2,500 litres of fresh drinking water per day. Oops!
Manneken Pis Feuds
Did you know that the nearby town of Geraardsbergen also has a peeing boy statue?
Apparently, there’s been a longstanding feud (now a friendly animosity) between the two places over which statue is the oldest.
The one in Geraardsbergen is thought to be older (they took this so seriously that they even went so far as to examine city archives to check this fact!)
Still, regardless of age, there’s no denying that Brussels’ Manneken Pis is the most famous one.
2. Jeanneke Pis
Most consider Jeanneke Pis (a half-metre-high blue-grey limestone statue) to be Manneken Pis’ little sister.
She was a late addition to the city and is not easy to find, so she’s considered something of a hidden gem in Brussels – especially when compared with her world-famous brother.
Jeanneke Pis was designed and created by a local restaurateur, Denis-Adrien Debouvrie in the mid-1980s and she was erected in 1987.
He supposedly wanted to give something back to his neighbourhood, so he set about designing a female version of the Manneken Pis statue, saying: “Now we have gender equality.”
But more cynical locals think it was probably a publicity stunt for his now-closed restaurant.
Because of Jeanneke’s young age, far fewer stories have been told about her. But that doesn’t stop her from being my personal favourite of all the peeing statues in Brussels.
I love that she’s hard to find. You really will only find her if you set out especially in search of her, so when you do, it’s like stumbling upon one of Brussels’ secrets.
You’ll find her squatting behind a red iron fence on an impasse (Impasse de la Fidélité), so you’ll need to come back the way you’ve gone once you’ve found her.
Be sure to throw some coins into her fountain as all the money collected goes to a cancer research charity.
Along Rue des Bouchers, which this little alleyway leads off from, is known as ‘restaurant row’ to the locals where Brussels’ most popular bars and restaurants can be found.
One of which (the Delirium Café) claims to sell over 2,000 beers from around the world, so this is also a very cool place to go in Brussels at night.
3. Het Zinneke
The third and final member of the Brussels peeing statue family is Het Zinneke (sometimes mistakenly called Zinneke Pis). He is a peeing dog.
As dogs are want to do, you’ll find him peeing up the side of a bollard on the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains (also home to a popular shopping district) in downtown Brussels.
This sweet little bronze dog was created by a local sculptor called Tom Frantzen as a likeness of his own dog and it was installed in 1998.
Unlike the boy and girl versions, Het Zinneke isn’t a fountain. And because of his position, it’s so easy to walk past him – even when you’re trying to find him!
“Zinneke” in old Brussels dialect refers to “a person of mixed origins”. It comes from “zenne” which is Dutch for the Senne River that flows underneath the city and “ke” which is a suffix meaning “little”.
Zinneke is what people from Brussels have been calling themselves for years to symbolise how their culture is a heady mix of French, Dutch and German origin.
People from Brussels are apparently very proud of this – there’s even a Zinneke Parade!
It’s very fitting then that the peeing dog statue is a proud mongrel relieving himself in the very spot where the little River Senne once flowed through the city.
Just like Jeanneke, there’s little more to say about this little dog.
Other than that Het Zinneke was struck by a car in the summer of 2015 and was lovingly restored by his original sculptor.
For more ideas of things to see and do in Brussels, check out our 2 days in Brussels weekend itinerary.
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