All around the world, there are sculptures and statues which have significance when you touch them. It could be anything from good luck, fertility or simply returning to the same city in the future. And you could be touching anything from a toe to the head, a breast or a ball. Umm, yeah. You didn’t think that was just a trick of the light on the horse in the picture above, did you?
Il Porcellino Fountain
The first time I remember something like this was Il Porcellino in Firenze (Piglet in Florence). This bronzed boar was cast around 1634 by Pietro Tacca and placed in the Mercato Nuovo. Well, the original was. In 2008 it was replaced and the original now resides in the Museo Bardini in Palazzo Mozzi. With this sculpture, you put a coin in its jaws for good luck, and then rub its snout to guarantee a safe return to Florence. Not a bad idea if you’re an art lover. I dutifully spent my coin and rubbed his muzzle, since I certainly intend to revisit. You can read about my original trip here.
Soon after, I arrived in Verona. I’m not exactly sure whose likeliness this sculpture is supposed to be modeled after, since Juliet was a fictional character. In fact, nearly all the tourism in Verona is based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, which you can read about here. Too bad, since the town is spectacular even without the Shakespearean hype. But since 1972, a statue of Juliet has stood in her courtyard, beneath the balcony of her house and thousands of tourists each day join the queue to climb up and rub her right breast. By popular belief, anyone doing so will receive good fortune and luck in their love life. I didn’t rub her, not because I didn’t need or want that luck, but because I didn’t want to wait half an hour in line.
A Fat Policeman in Budapest
No matter how hard I try, I can’t find anything online about the history of this portly fellow. Maybe if I spoke Hungarian…but that’s out of the question. Luckily the free walking tour in Budapest came to my rescue for the facts. Seems this man was famous for other activities than his policing. Suffice to say, rubbing his belly will give you a special batch of good luck…in bed.
Budapest is also home to the horse-rider Andras Hadik statue, which you can see at the top. Students for decades have climbed up the base to rub the horses big, shiny balls in order to get some good luck before an exam. You can follow suit if you want, but don’t get caught by the police. They aren’t all made of brass, and they might give you a fine for playing with those crown jewels.
A Monument to the Plumber Chumil
The next “rubbing” sculpture I ran across was in Bratislava. Here you will find the humorous sculpture of Chumil (Čumil in Slovak), installed in 1997 when Bratislava’s Old Town was being renovated. So what’s the story behind this hardhat character with his “Man at Work” sign above him? Nothing. No history what-so-ever. There’s no man with that name, no funny or sad story about a guy in the sewers. Just a sculptor with a sense of humor. Why rub his head? Why not!
Sculptures in Prague
The Czech Republic takes it to a whole new level when it comes to wild and wacky (and some really creepy) sculptures. Where else can you find a sculpture of two men pissing on their own country? Wait, that gets better! You can text +420 724 370 770 and David Černý’s Proudly animated sculpture will spell out your words with their pee. To my knowledge, nothing will come about if you rub them…anywhere.
There is, however, a statue you can rub. It’s a sculpture of Franz Kafka, riding an invisible character from one of his novels. Who was he? A writer hardly anyone knew when he was alive. But his works were published posthumously, and they turned out to be not that bad. Ironically, the book the statue is modeled on was ordered by Kafka to be burned when he died. Good thing it wasn’t, or we wouldn’t have this statue. Nowadays if you rub his foot on the statue, it will guarantee that you will return to Prague someday. That was fine by me, as it’s a city I’m very much looking forward to revisiting and spending a little more than two days, when it’s not 42° and every hostel is booked. You can read that story here.
On St. Charles bridge, there is a plaque at the base of the statue of John of Nepomuk. If you touch the falling man on the plaque, you will get some good luck and also ensure your return to Prague. Unfortunately I didn’t find out about that one until after I left, so no selfie, and I’ll have to hope that my luck with Kafka suffices.
As a final word for Prague, I can’t help but bring up these creepy creatures. There’s no reason to rub them, but I did mention Prague goes all out when it comes to the weirdest sculptures.
Wishing in Warsaw
Behind the castle in Old Town (Kanonia Square to be exact), a bronze bell that was cast in 1646 rests on a stone platform. I don’t know if you need to be physically touching the bell when you do so, but walking around it three times is said to bring good luck, or if you make a wish it will come true. That’s a little ironic in my book, since the bell was supposedly flawed and never hung in any church.
A Rooster on a Cat on a Dog on a Donkey
The famous sculpture of The Town Musicians of Bremen, based on the Brother’s Grimm story, was originally crafted in Bremen, Germany in 1953. Riga is Bremen’s sister city, and in 1990 they received their own sculpture. In this case the animals seem to be looking out through the Iron Curtain, quite appropriately for this town, steeped in German and Russian history. Rubbing their noses gives you the usual – good luck – but you might have to climb to reach the cock. OMG, I need to forget about that horse sculpture!
Margaretha Krook Sculpture Gives You a Warm Feeling
Finally we come to a unique sculpture outside Stockholm’s Drama Theater. Margaretha Krook was an actress there, but didn’t want a sculpture erected of her since bronze tends to be cold and uninviting, especially in the chilly Nordic climate. The ingenuity of Stockholm found a way around that, and they erected a heated bronze statue outside the theater right where she used to have her ciggs. Now you can rub her 37° heated belly to get some, well, warmth. That’s quite nice when you’re waiting outside in the cold for a theatrical performance.
There are two (or more) sculptures in my favorite city which get routine rubbings. The first is the statue of David Hume, the Scottish historian and one of the world’s greatest philosophers. The 9-foot-tall statue is considered an eyesore by many locals, but that doesn’t stop thousands of tourists (and a few college students) from rubbing his toe every day in the hopes that some of his philosophical genius will rub off on them.
Then there is one of my favorite statues in the world, Greyfriars Bobby, and that’s not just because it’s a Skye terrier! The story of this faithful pup is quite touching. Bobby was born around 1856. Shortly after, John Gray, a nightwatchman in Edinburgh, purchased him to be a guard dog with him. Then in 1858, John succumbed to tuberculosis and was buried in Greyfriars kirkyard. Bobby remained a true friend even in death and for the next 14 years guarded his master’s grave. In 1873, a fountain statue was made of Bobby outside Greyfriars Kirk, and after the law forbidding dogs from being buried on holy grounds was lifted, he received his own grave at the entrance of the church. Bobby’s headstone reads “Greyfriars Bobby – died 14th January 1872 – aged 16 years – Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”
Now you can rub Bobbie’s nose for good luck, but rub gently if you must. Bronze doesn’t last forever – as true friendship does. This statue is an exception, and authorities have asked that you not rub his nose due to the extensive damage it causes. Perhaps it’s better to pat him gently. He is a dog, after all.
Other Famous Sculptures
This is by no means a full list of all the sculptures you can rub, let alone just in Europe. It isn’t even all the ones I visited, as I know there were more but I don’t remember where and there’s no selfie in my collection.
When you get to a new city, look for the golden sheen amid the dark patina of old statues. Ask around and see if there are any legends. Who doesn’t need a boost of good luck. And if you fancy it, forward the story and a photo to me so I can update this post.