Moulin Rouge Windmill Blades Fall Off in the Middle of the Night

The iconic Paris landmark has never experienced such a mishap in its 135-year history

Moulin Rouge without sails on the windmill
Authorities don't know why the sails fell off in the early hours of April 25. Andrea Savorani Neri / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Since 1889, a tall red windmill has welcomed visitors to the famed Moulin Rouge in Paris.

But last week, the iconic performing arts venue in the city’s Pigalle district suffered an unusual architectural mishap: The windmill’s blades fell off.

Authorities still don’t know exactly what happened. But around 2 a.m. on Thursday, the blades—also known as sails—inexplicably tumbled to the sidewalk more than 30 feet below, reports Le Parisien’s Candice Doussot. The evening’s final show had ended about an hour earlier, and everyone but security workers had gone home.

Fortunately, no one was injured by the falling structure, though it did snap off the first three letters from the name displayed on the outside of the building, which temporarily read “LIN ROUGE.”

The incident was likely the result of a technical failure, and authorities do not suspect foul play. Workers have already removed the sails and replaced the missing letters. Shows at the venue are continuing as planned.

“In 135 years of history, the Moulin Rouge has experienced many adventures, but it is true that as far as the sails are concerned, this is the first time it’s happened,” general manager Jean-Victor Clerico told reporters, per the Guardian’s Jon Henley.

The blades are made of aluminum and wood, according to Le Parisien. Typically, they spin slowly and are illuminated at night. Fanny Rabasse, a spokesperson for the Moulin Rouge, tells the Telegraph’s Henry Samuel that the sails are “very well maintained” and that a technician visits once a week to “check the mechanism.”

Joseph Oller and Charles Zidler opened the venue in the late 19th century at the foot of the Montmartre hill in hopes of launching “the biggest and most beautiful of cabarets; a temple dedicated to Woman, the Dance and the Cancan,” per the Moulin Rouge website.

Montmartre, which is situated north of the city center, was “initially a rural village dotted with vineyards and windmills,” according to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. To pay homage to the region’s history, Oller and Zidler built a windmill and named their venue Moulin Rouge, which means “red mill” in French.

The Moulin Rouge helped popularize the cancan, a new high-kicking dance style that revealed performers’ petticoats. More recently, the cabaret was an inspiration for the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film Moulin Rouge!

In 1915, a blaze swept through the venue, leaving behind “little more than a heap of ashes,” as the International Herald Tribune reported at the time. It reopened nearly a decade later.

After last week’s mishap, crews started working to restore the Moulin Rouge as quickly as possible. The windmill sails will be replaced “very, very soon,” Clerico tells BFM TV, as reported by CNN’s Joseph Ataman and Amarachi Orie.

“Paris without its mill is like Paris without its Eiffel Tower,” says André Duval, who worked as the Moulin Rouge’s head waiter in the 1980s, to Le Parisien, per Google Translate. “I’m waiting to see the reaction of the thousands of tourists who come every day to see it. Not one person comes to visit Paris without coming to take a photo of it.”

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