Paris: Discover the sets of the Cirque d’Hiver with the Bouglione family

The emblematic Cirque d’Hiver, closed to the public outside of shows except on Heritage Days, will open to visitors on one Saturday morning a month from April. Led by members of the Bouglione family themselves, owners of the premises since 1934, a group of 20 people will have the opportunity to discover what lies behind the red curtains.

“We felt it was really important to share with the public what happens behind the scenes to tell the story of the place and the Bouglione family. But we wanted to keep that feeling of an almost sacred place, which is why only one visit is organized every month,” explains Fabrice Bing, responsible for communication at the circus.

A thousand and one stories to tell

Built in 1851 by architect Jacques Ignace Hittorf and inspired by Greek temples, the Cirque d’Hiver is a listed historic monument and is none other than the oldest circus in the world. From the planning permission granted on December 2, 1851, the day of Napoleon III’s coup d’etat, to the conversion into a Pathé cinema, to the transformation into a film set for the film “Trapèze” by Carole Reed, the Cirque d’Winter gives the Feeling of having lived a thousand and one lives.

The trapdoor at the heart of the Great Hall Track, now used as performers' entrance and exit, leads down into what was originally a pool built for water shows and dedicated by Mistinguett in 1932.
The trapdoor at the heart of the Great Hall Track, now used as performers’ entrance and exit, leads down into what was originally a pool built for water shows and dedicated by Mistinguett in 1932. LP / Candice Doussot

The 1:30am visit allows you to linger over the ornaments on the facade before admiring the magnificent circular hall that seats 1,600 spectators. Just beyond the track, hidden by velvet curtains, is the foyer, which serves as a bar during breaks and a warm-up room the rest of the time, and the menagerie, where Richard Avedon recorded the iconic recording of “the Dovima and the Elephants” for the Dior collection from 1955.

The icing on the cake: The cave of Ali Baba in Bouglione

At the top of a small wooden staircase, the highlight of the show awaits us: the personal museum of Louis Sampion Bouglione and his father Émilien. Together they have built a stunning collection of never-before-seen items featuring more than 200 rare runway costumes, hundreds of vintage photos and posters…

“I’ve always collected, it’s a real passion that my father inherited from me and that nurtures me from morning to night. Sharing this with everyone is one way to bring these objects to life. And what I love is that nobody knows what to expect when they come here,” the circus man says happily. The confined space is like a real Ali Baba’s cave. Posters cover the red walls and ceiling, dozens of mannequins in sequined clown costumes are scattered around the room… Enough to make the stars twinkle in your eyes.

Louis Sampion Bouglione, in the heart of the family's private museum, holds his father's silver clown, a trophy won at the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival.
Louis Sampion Bouglione, in the heart of the family’s private museum, holds his father’s silver clown, a trophy won at the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival. LP / Candice Doussot

Guided tour of the Cirque d’Hiver, 110, rue Amelot (11th), every first Saturday of the month by reservation only. Ticket price: 20 euros. Performances of the next Cirque d’Hiver show “Fantaisie” begin on October 22nd.

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