The Minerva Fountain on the Place du Sablon in Brussels barely produces a trickle of water these days, but it once supplied water for the entire neighbourhood. It was paid for by a Scottish aristocrat, Thomas Bruce, the Third Earl of Elgin, who fled to Brussels in 1696 to avoid being executed as a traitor.
He married a Belgian woman and lived happily in a mansion on the Sablon. He described his wife Charlotte, Countess of Esneux, as “a noble and virtuous woman, born to make anyone happy, the reverse of her mother.” But Charlotte died in 1710 aged just 31.
Lord Bruce was eventually told that it was safe for him to return to Britain, but he was happily settled in Brussels, where he lived until his death in December 1741. The exiled earl paid for the fountain to thank the people of Brussels for their hospitality.
The sculpture above the fountain represents Minerva, the Goddess of war, who has lost her nose. She is pointing to a shield with two busts, both rather weathered, that show the vague profiles of the rulers Empress Maria Theresa and François of Lorraine.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.