Top 10 Historical Facts about the Moulin Rouge


Make sure to read our article Top 10 Things To Do in Montmartre before you start walking around Montmartre. This article covers you the best places to visit and gives you some great advice to make the most of your Paris trip.

Thanks to cinematic exposure in the acclaimed film with the same name, the Moulin Rouge remains one of the most well known institutions around the world.

Much of what we learned about the risqué cabaret in this film was hard to confirm or deny as historically accurate. The character of Satine is a part-real, part-fictional character based off a dancer who once worked at the club named Jane Avril.

The Moulin Rouge – by Közösségi Szociális Szövetkezet – Wikimedia Commons

Lets digress slightly and take a look at some true, historical facts surrounding the history of the Moulin Rouge; “You’ll be dumb with wonderment” as the old film lyrics go.

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1. The Original Building Burnt Down

The Moulin Rouge and the Eiffel Tower were both unleashed to the Parisian public in 1889. It was a big year for the people of France who were very recently coming out of years of warfare in the land.

On the 27th of February in 1915 the beloved Moulin Rouge was completely devoured in a fire that ranged through the entire premises.

The establishment was completely shut down for six long years during which rebuilding took place. It reopened just after World War 1 in 1921.

2. It Was the First Building in Paris to Receive Electricity

Walking through the streets of Pigalle today you’d never imagine that this village once existed in complete darkness .

The original Moulin Rouge was the first property in Paris to receive electricity.

The red lighting features were designed by a man named Adolphe Léon Willette. Every evening at 10pm sharp the building would receive its surge of power from the city of Paris; the only building in the city permitted to do so.

The Moulin Rouge – by Kristek Pál – Wikimedia Commons

3. The Moulin Rouge Used to Feature an Opium Den

Much of the cabaret’s early success had to do with the fact that this was one of the only places in Paris where one could enjoy both absinthe and opium as desired.

In the year of opening, the owners Oller and Zidler came across a giant plaster elephant at a local exhibition. They purchase it and moved it into the garden cafe of the Moulin Rouge.

The inside was transformed into an opium den featuring belly dancers and other feasts for the senses. They charged people a single franc to get inside.

4. The Can-Can Was Invented in the Moulin Rouge by Mistake

This iconic dance move was indeed invented in the Moulin Rouge, that much is true. However just how this dance came to be will probably blow your mind.

The Can-Can came about as a result of the dancers having to repeatedly kick at overstepping men who would reach up to the stage in attempt to touch them inappropriately. This happened so often that eventually a full routing was formed around it and thus saw the birth of this world famous dance.

Can-Can – by Brendan – Wikimedia Commons

5. Edith Piaf Performed in the Moulin Rouge in 1944

The Liberation of Paris happened in 1944. To celebrate this historic event, Edith Piaf agreed to perform at the Moulin Rouge a few nights later.

She introduced a new performer to the patrons of the cabaret, Yves Montand. Yves performed alongside her throughout the evening and it was a true moment in history for the club.

6. The Feather Costumes are Made in Montmartre

While the elaborate costumes themselves are made by the in-house team at the actual premises, the feathers come from elsewhere in Montmartre.

The same family business has been responsible for the sourcing of the Moulin Rouge feathers since 1929. They bring in untreated feathers from all over the world and meticulously treat them until they are in the right shape to be sent off to the seamstresses at the Moulin Rouge.

Each feather is brushed, washed, boiled and dyed to perfection — or it is disposed of.

Moulin Rouge Dancers – by Roland Godefroy – Wikimedia Commons

7. Toulouse-Lautrec Was a Regular at the Moulin Rouge

French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautre’s love for Montmartre is widely known due to the many representations of the village found in his work.

He immersed himself in the streets and cafes of the district where he would eventually meet La Goulue, a dancer at the Moulin Rouge. Driven by love, Toulouse-Lautre would go on to attend the cabaret every night, always seated at the same corner table from which he would drink absinthe and sketch the customers of the evening.

At The Moulin Rouge by Toulouse-Lautrec – by Sailko – Wikimedia Commons

8. The Moulin Rouge Dancers Made the Guinness Book of World Records

At the 125 year anniversary celebration of the Moulin Rouge, the dancers were recored by Guinness World Record officials as being able to kick their legs above their heads in unison 29 times in 30 seconds — something that had yet to be done anywhere else in the world.

On the same evening, a solo dancer named Féérie was recorded having been able to kick above his head 30 times in 30 seconds, setting a record of his own.

9. Men Were Allowed to be Dancers at the Moulin Rouge

They still are! Auditioning to dance in the Moulin Rogue has always been open to individuals of all sexes. The only prerequisite being a suitably muscular body and a slightly more femme personality that can radiate amongst the women — a background in classical and modern jazz dancing doesn’t hurt either.

10. Dancer Mistinguett Had Her Legs Insured for 500,000 Francs

During her time working in the Moulin Rouge, Mistinguett was the highest paid female entertainer in the world. Mistinguett was the stage name for Jeanne Florentine Bourgeois, the main dancer in the cabaret after it reopened following the fire.

Jeanne was so successful at the time that she was able to have her legs insured for 500,000 francs, which at the time was an unfathomable amount of money.

Mistinguett – by Unknown – Wikimedia Commons

While the Moulin Rouge will never be what it was during these tumultuous times of controversy and prohibition, it will (probably has already) go down in history as one of the most revolutionary entertainment businesses in the world.

Be sure to book a free guided walking tour through the Pigalle neighborhood while you’re in Paris so you can connect with the true history of the area even further!