Skip to main content

La Belle Époque

Step back in time to La Belle Montmartre - 2007 (by J. Boyer-Switala)
Marion Cotillard's character in Midnight in Paris wants to live in La Belle Époque France as she believes it to be Paris' Golden Age. She won't get much of an argument from me - although I'd be more inclined to say I'd like to visit (not permanently reside in) La Belle Époque.

In English, La Belle Époque translates to The Beautiful Age and  arose out of the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. It spans post-Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) through the onset of WWI (1914). And beautiful it was...well, if you were not poor urban workers, anyway. 
Children of the Working Class - 1900 (source:
The People
The ever-expanding bourgeoisie adopted many of the values and ideals from their Victorian neighbors in the north and their own aristocracy (they were aristocratic wannabes). They valued morality, propriety, and modesty, and spent their leisure time partaking in wholesome activities such as strolling through les jardins du Paris (think Maurice Chevalier in the opening scene of Gigi where he sings his creepy, yet ever so popular "Thank Heaven for Little Girls"), attending l'opéra ou le théâtre (can you say Phantom?), and dining in les restaurants (Sorry. Other than the "les" I can't make that one sound any's the same in French as it is in English).
Bourgeoisie at a Café on the Grands Boulevard - 1900 (Source:
However, it is not so much the bourgeoisie for which La Belle Époque is remembered, but instead the Bohemians. The Bohemians were the counterculture of their time, the rebels of their day. They were fiercely anti-bourgeoisie/capitalists and rejected the status quo. They were predominately the writers and artists who inhabited Montmartre (there were also some intellectuals in the Latin Quarter, but the serious la vie Bohème was centered in Montmartre), frequented dance halls and cafés, and drank Absinthe. 
Bohemians at Au Lapin Agile - 1905 (Source:
Au Lapin Agile - 2008 (J. Boyer-Switala)
And it was the Bohemians who made famous the infamous Moulin Rouge.
The Moulin Rouge - 2008 (J. Boyer-Switala)
Moulin Rouge
The Moulin Rouge (Red Mill) is located at the base of Montmartre near Pigalle (which at one time was dubbed "Pig Alley" by WWII Allied soldiers due to its plethora of prostitutes). Bohemians flocked to dance halls like the Folies Bergère, but nothing came to represent Bohemian life more so than the Moulin Rouge. Founded by Charles Zidler (just like in the movie Moulin Rouge!) and Joseph Oller in 1889, the Moulin Rouge would become known for its scantily clad dancers who flashed their petticoats (and then some) during the risqué Can-Can.
The Moulin Rouge - ca 1900
And you know all of those proper bourgeois men? Well, they would tuck in their wives at night then head to the Moulin Rouge!  Scamps! There, they could watch the Can-Can or, head out back through the  gardens and climb into a ridiculously large elephant (again, just like in the movie...they didn't make up that stuff!) 
The Elephant of the Moulin Rouge ca. 1900
Zidler and Oller had retrieved this monstrosity made of wood and stucco from the recent World Expo. In its bowels (pun intended) they created a special place for special kinds of  male customers. Once a gentleman (and I use that term loosely...) walked up the spiral staircase that encircled the elephant's leg,  they could pay for a private showing of an exotic belly dance...and apparently there was a "happy ending" option, if you know what I mean.

As cool and iconic as the Moulin Rouge is now, it rapidly gained a reputation as a brothel. It was even rumored that there was an opium den inside the elephant (how peculiar sounding is that?!) The establishment eventually rebuilt, regrouped, and cleaned up. And I am sorry to report that somewhere along the way, the ginormous hooker and hookah holding elephant bit the dust. 

And in case you're interested, the Moulin Rouge is still open for business. It is now a legitimate (and expensive!) cabaret,  much like you would find in Las Vegas. It has, however, held on to some of its history as many of the dancers are sans top. So, if nudity bothers you, do not spend your Euros on a show at the Moulin Rouge!

The Eiffel Tower
Nothing is so quintessentially Parisian as the Eiffel Tower.  And while it is known worldwide today,  many do not know that this iconic structure was created during La Belle Époque. Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the tower was to serve as the entryway to the 1889 World Expo which was being held in Paris to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution. It was not intended to remain in tact beyond the Expo, yet it still stands.
I cannot remember where I found this photo, but I do remember that it was taken from a hot air balloon!
The Eiffel Tower was a marvel of La Belle Époque because it was a direct product of the innovations of the Industrial Revolution. Built of iron, it was created piecemeal at a factory in the suburbs, then  transported into Paris and riveted together on site. It is kind of like when you're driving and someone's living room goes whizzing by on its way to become part of someone's home. 

The number of rivets, tons of iron, and sheer height still make it a wonder of the world. To find out all the fantastic facts and statistics about the Eiffel Tower, check out the brief video below from the History Channel.

Eiffel Tower Basic Facts (History Channel)

Believe it or not, not everybody thought the Eiffel Tower is as amazing as I do. Many concerned citizens of the time - Émile Zola, Charles Garnier, and Alexandre Dumas the younger - opposed the Eiffel Tower. They considered it an eye sore and created a petition to clean up the Parisian skyline with the destruction of the landmark.  After a couple of other close calls (one of which was Hitler's orders to blow up the Eiffel Tower) Parisians decided the Eiffel Tower was here to stay. Thank goodness!
Follow on Bloglovin


Terrific post! There are so many periods in history I would love to visit but like you, not necessarily reside in (i.e. not a fan of a time without vaccines and other modern inventions and conveniences). I'm a huge fan of Marion Cottilard and was so glad she was in Midnight in Paris. I think the first film I saw her in was A Very Long Engagement which is another great French film.
Being a Hemingway fan, have you ever read "The Paris Wife"? I ordered a copy off of Amazon, it came ruined due to the rain, sent it back and haven't gotten around to getting a new copy yet. I still would love to read it although I have such a backlog of books on my reading list.

Popular posts from this blog

Les Femmes Tondues

It is no great secret that some French collaborated during the Nazi Occupation of France. Some did it for less than admirable reasons, such as political gain, anti-Semitism, or true fascist ideology. Other people were frightened and saw no end to the Occupation, while some were motivated simply by the desire to survive. Many women who collaborated fall into the latter category. Food, clothes, and fuel (among other items) were scarce during the Occupation. Nearly everything needed to sustain life was rationed, and much of France's food and other necessary commodities were shipped to Germany. One way to ensure warmth and a full belly was by making nice with a German soldier. 
In a desperate attempt to survive, some French women took on German soldiers as lovers. It return, the soldier ensured the woman's basic needs were met. Not all women had affairs for material gain - some simply slept with German soldiers because they were lonely. Either way, these sexual liaisons produced man…

La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv (The Vel d’Hiv Round Up)

Photo Source: 1st Art Gallery
Every Holocaust survivor – every ghost of those who did not survive - has a story to tell. Each story is unique, yet equally tragic. Some we have heard more than once, while others lay silent, buried in the dusty pages of a nation’s shame…
Occupation and Anti-Semitism 14 June 1942 marked the two-year anniversary of the Nazi occupation of Paris. By this point, many French had joined the Résistance, while others felt it in their best interest to collaborate with the Nazi regime. Many Jews had fled France, and those who remained behind lived in chronic fear. The Jewish Decrees (France's version of the Nuremberg Laws) saw the Jews of Paris stripped of their livelihoods, property, and rights. As in other occupied areas of Europe, the French Jews were required to wear the yellow stars of David. Inscribed with a single word in the center, Juif (Jew), the badges had to be sewn neatly on the left side of the chest. Failure to do so could land a person in jail – o…

A Little Zazou ~ Pour Vous

Sorry Disney fans, but I am not talking about Simba's little feathered hornbill friend in the Lion King (that's spelled Zazu anyway). No, I am talking about the Zazou Jazz Era that began in Interwar Paris and les zazous who, in their own way, defied Vichy and the Nazis when they occupied France during the Second World War. 
Thanks to my ADD that always manages to kick in when I am supposed to be doing serious research, I stumbled upon the concept of zazou when I was - you guessed it - researching for my Master's thesis on the French Resistance last year. 
While I was disappointed that I could not use this newfound knowledge in my thesis, all was not lost. This detour introduced me not only to the fascinating history of les zazous, but some really remarkable Manouche Jazz (a.k.a. Gypsy Swing Jazz) that I knew would some day make a great blog. Lucky you, mes chers, that day is today!
What the Heck IS Zazou? Zazou describes a style of jazz as well as a group of people. Les zazous