Suitcase and World: The Pis Family.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Pis Family.

Photo by ©  Pbrundel. Licensed under  Creative Commons 3.0)

ou have to give it up to the Belgians. They are quirky to say the least but in a very lighthearted though reverent way.

I live stone's throw from Washington, DC where we have historic landmarks galore.  When it comes to design, they are all formal, staid and very conservative looking.  Some would say they are elegant.  I guess whatever adjectives you can use to describe structures befitting a nation's capital would be appropriate.

Belgium has its fair share of those sorts of structures too so it's a bit surprising that its most famous landmark is the statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain's basin.  Say hello to Manneken Pis.

Designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder,  the bronze statue of Manneken Pis has been happily peeing in Brussels for more than 400 years. His name translates to "Little Man Pee" in Marols, a Dutch dialect spoken in Brussles.

When I went to Brussels in 2006, we of course had to see this statue.  I didn't realize just how small he is - he stands all of just 61 centimeters (24 inches)!  I was a tad disappointed and walked away wondering why the heck the Belgians revere this little statue and consider it an iconic symbol of their country.

In fact, there are many legends as to how the fountain came to be and what it signifies.  On the valor side, stories involve a little boy peeing on something (opposing troops, a burning fuse) and in the process saves the entire city from certain doom.  A more humorous story revolves around a rebellious kid whose father and/or mo ther lose track of him only to find him peeing all over town.  The more prosaic story is that he was just a decoration on a fountain that served as the central water source for the city and that the stories were all just concocted by people who grew up knowing him as they came to the fountain to retrieve water.

Whatever is the real story, if there is one, this little boy is truly loved adored.  In fact, he was stolen so many times that in 1965, officials decided to swap out the original for a replica. The original is now kept at the Maison du Roi on the Grand Place.

All American Manneken Pis on  July 4th, 2012.
(Photo from rootsweb on
He also has his own wardrobe.  That's right, the statue is dressed in costume, according to a published schedule which is posted on the railings around the fountain. His wardrobe consists of several hundred different costumes, many of which may be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside the City Museum, located in the Grand Place. The costumes are managed by the non-profit association The Friends of Manneken-Pis, who review hundreds of designs submitted each year, and select a small number to be produced and used.

And what would a famous statue be without his own website?

Of course, Z will have to pay him a visit but I think that he too will leave wondering what all the fuss is about.  The famous statue is located at the junction of Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat,very near Grand Place.  I'm sure he'll be clearly marked on the tourist map.

In 1987, Manneken Pis got a sister - Jeanneke Pis.  The statue of the little girl, with her hair in short pigtails, squatting and peeing into a fountain was commissioned by Denis-Adrien Debouvrie in 1985 and erected in 1987.  The half meter (16 inches) high statue is made of blue grey limestone.

Jeanneke Pis @ Tikalio Fontaines, / CC BY 2.0)
Unlike the virtues of valor and rebellion that Manneken Pis represent, the lore that swirls around his sister is far less virtuous.  The story goes that a local restaurant owner was eager to establish equality between the sexes, and so set about creating a counterpart to Manneken Pis.  On the other hand, cynics suggest it was just a stunt to attract visitors to the restaurant.  The restaurant is long gone but Jeanneke is still squatting and peeing.

Poor little Jeanneke.  No one dresses her.  Perhaps her squatting position makes it too difficult to put clothing on her.

She does have her own official website though.  After all, you can't let your brother out do you at everything!
Jeanneke squats on east side of the Impasse de la Fidélité / Getrouwheidsgang (Fidelity Alley), a narrow cul-de-sac leading northwards off the restaurant packed Rue des Bouchers / Beenhouwersstraat.  If we have time, we'll try and find her.

Zinneke Pis @ Arcadiuš, / CC BY 2.0)

No family would be complete without a pet and that holds true for the Pis's.  Their canine family member is known as Zinneke Pis.  Unlike the other two statues, Zinneke is just a statue, not a fountain so he (yes, it's a he) actually peeing out water.

There is no lore around Zinneke.  He was created and installed by a local resident who just wanted a statue of a peeing dog.

He stands at the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Vieux Marché aux Grains which today is one of the trendiest shopping streets in Brussels.  But if you break up his name, etymologically, you'll find that his location is a very special one.

Split his name up into syllables like this - zenne-ke. Zenne is Dutch for the Senne River that ran through Brussels, and –ke is the suffix meaning “little.” This dog is peeing in the spot where the little Senne once flowed and on the banks of where Brussels was founded.  Okay, so spread the lore of how this peeing dog actually founded the city of Brussels when he pissed on the ground :-)

Poor Zinneke gets no clothes and no official website.  He's located a bit aways from the heart of the tourist zone.  Perhaps we'll run across him on the Comic Strip Trail.

The Pis family.  You have to love the Belgians for their quirkiness!