History of La Moulin de Galette
La Moulin de Galette – “the windmill of the brown bread” dates back to the 17th Century. Built in 1622, the mill originally was on another part of the hill, but later located towards the top of Montmartre. This landmark has been witness to some of the wildest history Paris has known. I learned from my lovely Context Travel docent Marie, that the Debray family owned and operated this windmill as a factory to sift flour from the local bran grown nearby. The tasty brown bread, known as galette, was served with milk at first but later was served with alcohol and parties ensued. Of particular note, the wine served was also mostly local as the nuns had vineyards (one still exists today) on the hillside of Montmartre and produced wines from them.
Famous Artists frequented here
The narrow steep streets of Montmartre created extra hassle for women in gowns. The horse drawn carriages could not make their way up. Thus, women who wanted to attend the parties at La Moulin de Galette, were dropped off at the bottom of Montmartre and had to be taken up the hill via donkey. Renoir was one such party attendee, however he was less about the party and more about capturing the scene. The Bal du moulin de la Galette, perhaps his most popular piece, is of the partygoers on the outside terrace.
Family dedication to the brown windmill
The Debray family was completely dedicated to their mill and defended it during the siege of Paris in which the Cossacks (fierce warriors from Russia and the Ukraine) wanted to set an example of what would happen to the local street fighting Frenchman who dared resist them. They killed Pierre-Charles Debray and nailed him to the arms of the windmill. Undeterred, the Debray family lost two other family members fighting, but not their windmill. It remained in the family for quite some time but fell into disrepair.
Incidentally, a dedicated group of “Cossacks” celebrated their victory over Napoleon in 2012 on the the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, outside Moscow in 1812. In order to honor their fallen comrades, a group of them took a several month long horseback ride along the same route the original warriors took to defeat Napoleon. They were to end their route in France, but I have not been able to determine if they made it all the way. If any of my readers know the answer, please let me know.
Friends of Old Montmartre
Of course the City of Paris grew and urban sprawl paved over the farmlands. Local mills were no longer needed. La Moulin de Galette ceased to be a working mill and fell into disrepair. Thankfully an association was created and saved the old mill from being destroyed. The Friends of Old Montmartre kept it safe and later the owner moved it to its present day location on the corner of Lepic and Girardon.
Although a restoration was completed in the 1970’s the windmill is not operational. Its sole purpose is to serve as a monument to the old ways of the people of Montmartre. La Moulin de Galette is still open for business as a restaurant, but it is much tamer than its historical roots. Nonetheless, the terrace is still a popular spot and boasts a wonderful view of the windmill.
All photos property of The Weekend In Paris unless otherwise noted. Must obtain permission before use.