Belle Époque Brothels

Belle Époque Brothels

Marthe Richard,  the aviator,  spy and dubiously a recipient of the Legion of Honour, who twice married into money, was a former street prostitute.

Yet, it was she who was instrumental in abolishing prostitution in 1946 when she was the Town Councillor of Paris.


Effecting over 20,000 women by closing down some 1,400 brothels and destroying a piece of Parisian history, if only, aesthetically.

Decorative mosaics that depicted naked woman and erotic scenes were pulled down, flooring was pulled up, antique bordello paraphernalia was sold or destroyed and the majority of the buildings converted into apartments.

Although there are only a few remnants of the Brothels of the Belle Epoque in Paris today, you can find them if you know what to look out for.

Prostitution in Paris has existed since almost time itself.

During the Middle Ages certain restrictions were put in place including designated streets and operating times.


Under the rule of Louis IX, despite his attempts to abolish ‘the oldest profession’ as it is sometimes referred to, he finally conceded and allocated a handful of streets, in what was then, outside the city walls of Paris.


Although the street names have since been changed, they once carried evocative names referencing female genitalia or one such street translated to ‘pull the sausage’ and a couple of others; ‘scratch-bottom’ and the ‘whore who hides here’.


former brothel 36 rue Saint-Sulpice 75006


It wasn’t until the Napoleonic Era that prostitution became legal and heavily regulated.

In 1804, Napoleon ordered that all ‘Maisons Closes’ or ‘Maisons de Tolérance’ (brothels) were to be registered with the city, ran by a woman and that the prostitutes must have a bi-weekly medical examination.

By 1810, there was an estimated 180 registered brothels operating in Paris.

Over 100 years later, the lesser paid British soldiers of WWI were visiting the not so salubrious establishments.  While the higher paid Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians who were earning a whopping 6 shillings per day, could afford a slightly better calibre of surrounds.

By WWII, the Maisons Closes of Paris had expanded expeditiously and were doing a roaring trade, with some exclusively servicing the German soldiers.

But the trick was, how did one find such an establishment, especially if you were new to town?

It was easy, simply buy a copy of  the Guide Rose, under the counter, of course.

An annual publication that not only offered where to find a Maison Close, but was also thoughtfully divided into arrondissements and specialities.


A handful of the Maisons Closes were lavishly decorated, had themed rooms and were patronised by the bourgeois, movie stars, artists and royalty.

Unfortunately, when the brothels became illegal, they were stripped bare.

However, if  you are facing the church, pictured here on the left bank, Paroisse Saint-Sulpice, and wander down the street that runs on the left side of the church; Rue Saint-Sulpice, it is here, at numbers 15 and 36 that you can catch a glimpse, a fragment of the Belle Epoque Maisons Closes.



Upon first inspection, admittedly, there isn’t much to see, at 15, rue Saint-Sulpice, no telltale signs of a bordello.


Just a very ordinary Parisian building.


A doctors surgery inhabits the ground floor and pretty plants decorate the small French balconies above.


But take a step closer and peer through the glass door.


What you will find on the floor is this mosaic entrance with the name of the former brothel madame; Alys, thankfully preserved.

It was well known that on the second floor of this building there was a S & M Maison Close and a Hamman.

Due to its proximity to the Catholic Church, Saint-Sulpice, it is not difficult to guess who the majority of their clientele was.

Specialising in pincers, autoerotic asphyxia and well, you get the picture!

But it was this building that I was more excited about finding when I discovered the history behind it.

Barely wider than a doors width, located at number 36, rue Saint-Sulpice, is this slender building with pseudo Roman columns and ceramic detail and that is just a couple of hints, offering us a clue to the buildings former life.


Apparently it isn’t a coincidence that directly opposite this building is a side entrance to the church Saint-Sulpice.

It was not unusual to see black cassocks of the clergy flapping in the breeze as they scooted over the road to their favoured themed rooms; the crucifixion parlor and the Satan’s Hell torture room.

Miss Betty’s as this place was known, specialised in S & M also.


If you didn’t happen to have a copy of the Rose Handbook guide to brothels, you could not only scout them out by the flourishes of decoration on the façade ….

But also by the colourful, easily identifiable, oversized street numbers.

Unlike the regular small, white on blue regulated numbering you see around Paris.

The most famous Maison Close was Le Chabanais, now a subdued apartment block.

It was no run down flea pit, in fact completely the opposite.

Elaborate and luxurious, Edward VII not only had baths filled with champagne while his Parisian prostitutes tended his needs but also had a specially designed ‘love seat’ for threesomes which was in his own private room in the brothel.

Apparently when Le Chabanais was closed down in 1946, when prostitution became illegal, Salvador Dali bought the bath!

I am not sure about the true history behind these tokens or ‘jetons’ but I am assuming buy one get one free.

Clearly identifiable with the name and address of the brothel, perhaps in the same way we use loyalty cards today!

I did see an image on the internet of a walking cane with a secret slot, especially to store this type of token.

Next time you are strolling around Paris, you may want to see if you can also find more large number plates adorning buildings, and if you do, please send a pic through, I would love to see it.

And I will do the same and add more here if I come across them.

I hope you enjoyed this tip, if you can get that image of Edward VII bathing in a copper bath full of champagne out of your head.

If you have found this useful or interesting, please leave a comment or follow me on facebook for daily tips, photos and anecdotes. Your feedback encourages me to keep this site up to date.  Merci!

Paris Adèle’s Information Nécessaire :


Belle Époque Brothels

15 & 36 Rue Saint-Sulpice
Paris 75006

Opening Hours :
24 Hours a Day
although best during daylight hours

Entrance : Free

Nearest Metro :
Saint-Sulpice or Mallibon

Nearest Bus :
9, 63, 70, 84, 87, 95, 96

Related Post :

Passageways and Prostitutes

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2 Responses to Belle Époque Brothels

  • I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this website!  I came to read the article on les brothels de la belle epoque and stayed for more!  I was married to a man from France for 20 yrs, and used to visit Paris a lot – I haven’t been there now for many years (since 1992?) and I know that much has changed now – especially with the influx of Muslims. I’m afraid I would find it very depressing, and so sadly I believe I’ll never go there again. I’d like to remember it how it was. I am wondering if you have watched this film – en francias – about une grand maison de 1899? J’ai oublie le titre maintenant. But in one scene, there is a champagne bath!  It is a superb film if you look it up. … Voila: L’Apollonide, c’est ca. Thanks again for your wonderful site!

    • http://parisadele

      Hello Lichen Craig
      thank you so much for taking the time to leave you lovely message but don’t fear Paris is as safe and vibrant as ever. I do hope you make it back one day.

      I must look out for that movie it sounds fabulous and I am so pleased that you enjoyed a walk around my website.

      thanks once again

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