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Ever since I first stumbled upon the magnificent building of the Cirque d’Hiver (the Winter Circus), I wondered what it was all about. My curiosity finally got the better of me and off to the circus I went to explore under the big top!
Constructed on the site of a former fortress built by Charles V, the unique 20-sided embellished stone structure first opened in 1852 under the name Cirque Napoléon.
The brainchild of Louis Dejean who ran the Cirque d’Eté (the Summer Circus) near Gare de l’Est, this circus was initially dedicated to equestrian performances. It then became a traditional circus back in the 1920s and has been entertaining audiences ever since.
Stepping inside the building, it initially looks like a theater with seats going all the way around. But then, the magic starts. Under the silken big top, ushers dressed in red and gold liveries show you to your seats (and, incidentally, expect tips). A colorful popcorn stand harks back to old times, and the bandstand above the performers’ entrance is high and imposing — and the band rather good.
The seats soon filled with families, making me wonder if the show would appeal mostly to children, but I then spotted some other child-free couples. Once the performance started, we were all equally enthralled.
Glittering acrobats started off the show, followed by some very inquisitive, enormous, and seemingly well-looked after Bactrian Camels and a single leaping llama. I found the animal acts somewhat pointless and I was a little disappointed that in today’s day and age there are still circuses which use animals, but these seemed happy enough.
Clowns made me laugh, strong men made me gasp and daredevils had me sitting on the edge of my seat. A puff of 11 fluffy poodles made me ponder where I went wrong training my dog. They were so enthusiastic and obviously very happy to be playing their part. Much more than could be said about the hapless cats that soon followed. These were the only part of the two-hour show, apart from the really quite unnecessary, but well-cared-for looking, camels and llama, that I didn’t enjoy.
All in all? A fun afternoon out in a historic setting and a chance to reconnect with childhood joys. The Bouglione family puts on several shows on throughout the year — the one I saw was called Défi — so, if you prefer not to support circus shows which use animals, there are always other options.
Performances every day at 2pm and 5:15pm, with an additional performance at 10:45am on Sundays. Tickets starting at 10€ for back row, 27€ for other seats.