History of Moulin Rouge

Carefree life, Fickleness and Joie de Vivre… Those are the three words that could best sum up this unique period in the History of France. It was a rest between two wars, a period of transition between two centuries, during which the social barriers collapsed, when the industrial revolution gave hope of a better life for all, in a rich cultural profusion and that promised much fun. The middle-class mixed with the riffraff, the popular culture was enhanced in a contented disorder full of joy and vitality.

In that atmosphere, which favored artistic creativity, literary circles appeared and disappeared according to people meetings, while painters and drawers got especially inspired by this joyful sometimes outrageous but full of fancy atmosphere that broke completely with the rigid classicism of that period. Moulin Rogue takes place in Montmarte (an area within the city of Paris). Crowning the Montmartre- based world of commercial entertainment was Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler’s landmark music hall, the Moulin Rouge.

When the Moulin Rouge opened its door on the Place Blanche at the foot of Montmartre on the 6th of October 1889, all Paris turned out. Highbrow and lowbrow society alike mobbed the ‘Palace of Women’ before the paintwork was dry on its extravagantly decorated interior. The Moulin Rouge’s decor, by Montmartre painter Adolphe Willette, its exotic colour, form and the being became an overnight legend. Besides the immense dance hall complete with galleries to watch the dance floor and an orchestra mounted above the stage, there was a garden with another stage, cafe tables, cavorting monkeys and unstockinged prostitutes riding donkeys.

Also in the garden, a giant elephant (gleaned when the Universal Exhibition of 1889 terminated, housed an Arabian themed club inside its body. Male clients entered via the elephant’s leg where a spiral staircase opened onto belly dancing performances, an orchestra and an opium den. Making a radical break with the century’s relentless class divisions, a microcosm of Parisian society rubbed shoulder in scandalous proximity. European royalty, ambassadors, politicians, industrialists and magistrates lummed it with celebrity courtesans, can-can girls and workers. The local Montmartre Bohemians and the cocottes and noctambules (prostitutes), pimps, madams and thieves who were their neighbors were also out in force. Within the Moulin’s velvet draped walls, the aromas of women’s scent, face powder, tobacco and beer mingled as promiscuously as the audience in a class of their own were the courtesans, a social phenomena that all but died out with the end of the Belle Epoque and the beginning of World War 1.

Though springing from the same working class as the prostitutes, the more celebrated courtesans were distinguished by the length and high-style of the relationships they formed (with, near exclusively, the elite of Europe). Like today’s film, stars and supermodels, were also coltishly observed by press and public. But, if the Moulin Rouge quickly established its reputation as the most exotic sex market in Paris, it also represented a kind of cultural and social revolution.

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