6 October 1889: Le Moulin Rouge opens its doors

The Belle Époque was a time of great excitement in Paris. The French capital had put the humiliating defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 behind it, and looked forward to the coming 20th century with a renewed sense of optimism.

Meanwhile, the industrial revolution steamed ahead. New and exciting technological innovations began to appear, for example in photography and film. Not to be left behind, painting and music also flourished, with Toulouse-Lautrec in the vanguard of the post-impressionist art movement.

In 1889, Paris basked in the limelight. That year the Exposition Universelle was held in the city, focusing the world’s attention on the scientific and cultural achievements of France. Nothing was more emblematic of this huge swell of Gallic pride than the erection of the Eiffel Tower – the tallest structure in the world until 1930.

But the Eiffel Tower wasn’t the only offspring of the Belle Époque. Not far away, on the evening of 6 October, a brand new music hall was making ready to open its doors for the first time on the fashionable Boulevard de Clichy – Le Moulin Rouge.

“The public came… to discover this extravagant place with its huge dance floor, mirrors everywhere, and galleries that were the last word in elegance, to mix with the riffraff and girls of easy virtue, in a garden decorated with a big elephant with rides on donkeys for the ladies’ pleasure”, notes Le Moulin Rouge’s website. “There was such a wild atmosphere that the show was not only on the stage but all around: aristocrats and louts in caps had fun side by side, in an atmosphere of total euphoria.”

Whether it was the restoration of the republic with its egalitarian values, or simply the allure of the cabaret that appealed to universal human nature, the rigid class barriers of the 19th century began to dissolve in the heady, rarefied air of the famous red windmill, Le Moulin Rouge – conditions that would one day lead to the performing of one of Paris’ most popular, and, for the time, outrageous cultural icons: the cancan.

Also on this day

6 October 1927: Premiere of The Jazz Singer

On this day in 1927, cinema-goers descended on the premiere of ‘The Jazz Singer’ to see ‘the world’s greatest entertainer’ Al Jolson in one of the first ‘talkies’. Read more here.