Le Moulin Rouge

Visit Le Moulin Rouge in Paris

Paris is famous for its museums, cuisine, architecture and fashions. But just down the hill from Montmartre, in the city's eighteenth district, sits another landmark that you should see, even if you don't go inside for a show. The Moulin Rouge - so named for the famous red windmill that sits on top of the building- is the historic location of the original can-can dancers. Before Vegas, there was the Moulin Rouge. Fabulously costumed beautiful dancers, glitzy in rhinestones and feathers, kick up their heels to the regular delight of audiences.

The shows at the Moulin Rouge have been entertaining guests since the late 1800s. Originally, the shows were bawdy and naughty. Dancers would be pantiless at times, flashing their bits to wildly appreciative men. The original Moulin Rouge also included a hidden feature: a gigantic stucco elephant, into which men could climb for private shows in the creature's belly. No women allowed for these shows, except for the entertainers. The elephant was situated at the back of the building, and not visible from the street. Sadly, the pachyderm is gone now. When the Moulin Rouge was rebuilt in the early 20th century, it went to an elephant graveyard.

The Moulin Rouge

Le Moulin Rouge Poster by Jules Grun
Le Moulin Rouge Poster by Jules Grun
Le Moulin Rouge Poster by Henri Toulouse-Latrec
Le Moulin Rouge Poster by Henri Toulouse-Latrec

Entertainment at Le Moulin Rouge

The entertainment these days is much cleaner. Dancers still do the can-can, but are fully covered in all areas. Women and men alike can enjoy dinner and a show, including over 60 dancers and thousands of costumes. However, the history of the Moulin Rouge still lives on. Sex shops populate the surrounding Pigalle district just doors away from the cabaret.

Many movies have been made to showcase the Moulin Rouge and its culture. The most recent is the 2001 hit Moulin Rouge! starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. If you haven't enjoyed this production, it is a trip worth taking. Glorious costumes and magnificent singing (both by the actors themselves). But be prepared for some drug-like scenes, courtesy of the Green Fairy (Absinthe). Other films include Moulin Rouge, a 1953 production about the life of artist Henri Toulouse-Latrec, and Can-Can, starring Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, released in 1960.

The windmill on top of the building actually turns, flashing its lights and drawing crowds simply for that spectacle. Windmills were actually populated throughout this area of the city at one time, which is windier due to its location near the Butte Montmarte, the highest point in Paris. Montmartre itself is a haven for artists and bohemians, one of its most famous being Henri de Toulouse-Latrec. Latrec created many posters and drawings of the Moulin Rouge and is said to have finely illustrated the spirit of the belle epoque (beautiful era) of Paris. You can view some of his works at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

Whether you wish to go watch a show, or just see the famous red windmill from the street, you should venture into the red-light district of Paris. Its only a few steps away from the Basilica du Sacre Couer on Montmartre, and a world away. Close your eyes and imagine...

The Elephant at the back of the Moulin Rouge circa 1899
The Elephant at the back of the Moulin Rouge circa 1899

Moulin Rouge Movies and Music

Dancers at the Moulin Rouge
Dancers at the Moulin Rouge

© 2008 Stephanie Hicks

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Comments 7 comments

Bob Ewing profile image

Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

I have seen the movie three times now, it is a great and tragic love story. Great hub, thanks.

Peter M. Lopez profile image

Peter M. Lopez 8 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

Great hub, steph. Congrats on making the finals.

Peter M. Lopez profile image

Peter M. Lopez 8 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

Great hub, steph. Congrats on making the finals.

Moulin Rouge Fan 8 years ago

That was a great hub, well done.


Thanks for putting the you tube videoo on as well - I love that song!!

John @ moulin rouge costume ideas 6 years ago

Very interesting about the stucco elephant - I had not heard of that before - and it's good to see you've added Toulouse-Latrec prints which were (and are) so much a part of the Moulin Rouge

flode profile image

flode 5 years ago from Paris

Love the history of this place. I haven't been there yet because of huge lines to get in, but I will one of these days@

unmasked 5 years ago

great hub! I am a lover of all things burlesque so this was a great thing to read

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