In the heart of Montmartre, just outside Pigalle station, sits a Carrefour supermarket, like any other. For over a century, Montmartre’s only circus made its home on this spot, before shutting its doors 50 years ago. The Cirque Medrano is today a distant memory of Montmartre’s ebullient past.
Acrobat and equestrian, Fernando Beert first came to Paris to perform at the Fête de Montmartre, in 1872. When the building of the Sacre-Coeur began the next year, Fernando took it upon himself to find a home for the circus. Settling on a vacant spot at the bottom of the hill on Boulevard de Roucharchuart on the corner of Rue des Martyrs. The circus quickly became a local institution, like the nearby Moulin Rouge and Moulin de la Galette and was similarly frequenters by the area’s artists. Degas, Renoir and Lautrec were all visitors to the circus, painting Fernando and his performers into history.
Beert’s star attraction was his headline clown, Gerónimo Medrano. However, when a new circus opened up on Paris’ prosperous Rue Saint-Honoré, Medrano defected in 1889. Ferndandos equestrian fare was going out of fashion and with the defection of Medrano and the death of his wife, the circus fell on hard times. When the circus finally closed its doors in 1897, Fernando had completely disappeared.
The building’s lease was quickly assumed by Madrano, who renamed the circus after himself. Medrano kept to the same open door policy that Medrano had for Montmartre’s artists. With the establishment of the Bateau Lavoir, a new generation of painters and artists began to frequent the circus. Picasso, Gris, Braque, Matisse, van Dongen, Cocteau and Apollinaire all became parons of the Montmartre circus. Alongside the Cirque d’Hiver and the Nouveau Cirque, Paris would became the circus capital of Europe until the 1950s.
In 1928, following Geronimo’s passing, his son Jérôme Medrano took ownership of the circus. Educated and innovative, Jerome refine the performances and attracted the biggest performers, including Buster Keaton and the world’s highest paid entertainer, the clown Grock. The circus attracted Paris’ fashionable elite and became a focal point of the city’s entertainment scene.
The German occupation of France saw the circus fall under the control of the Nazis. Jerome would join the French Resistance and eventually return to Paris to retrieve his circus in 1941. However, Jerome was now only a tenant, with the lease having been sold to the wealthy Bouglione family, . A legal battle between the two sides would wage for decades, until 1962 when the Bougliones finally seized the building.
The Cirque Medrano closed its doors on January 3, 1963. The circus would continue, under the stewardship of the Bougliones, who renamed it the Cirque de Montmartre (Montmartre Circus). Still known to its patrons as the Madrano, it would continue its operations until 1971.
The building fell into a state of disrepair. In January 1974, the circus would have celebrated its 100 year anniversary. If it had done so it would have been automatically added to the inventory of potential landmarks, which may have prevented its demolition. Looking to protect their investment, the Bougliones tore the circus down in December of 1973.
Today, the space that was once Paris’ most famous circus, is now a nondescript apartment complex bearing the family’s name. Our hostel is merely minutes away from the former Madrano. Sat in the middle of the most picturesque district of Paris. Book with us now and discover Montmartre on your doorstep!