Elephant of the Bastille, Paris
24 metres high!!engraving in Le Magasin pittoresque, 1834.
Napoleon ordered the elephant be cast in bronze, melted down from cannons captured during his military victories. But Napoleon was impatient. Rather than waiting for this bronze to arrive, he had a full-scale model of the elephant created in plaster and placed on the site. Alas the bronze to transform the elephant into a permanent structure never arrived, and as Napoleon’s regime was coming to a rather pathetic end in 1814, the plaster structure was left to rot.
The creator of Moulin Rouge, Joseph Oller and his manager Charles Zidler, were canny businessmen who understood the belle epoque taste for the somewhat Low Arts. In particular Oller had noticed the commercial success of the very popular dances at the Élysée Montmartre and decided to open a rival dance hall nearby. In October 1889, the Moulin Rouge opened in the Jardin de Paris, at the foot of the Montmartre hill.
The business plan was to encourage rich Parisians to get down and get dirty in a fashionable district, Montmartre. The extravagant setting allowed people from all walks of life to mix comfortably. Workers, local residents, artists, the middle classes, businessmen, elegant women and lots of English men travelled to Montmartre to enjoy the entertainment together.
Moulin Rouge, Paris
The elephant was situated at the back of the building, and not visible from the street. But its semi-secret location didn’t save the beast from destruction. Within a decade, the entire construction had been broken up and carted away.
The Ile de Nantes was a large and very busy island in the middle of the River Loire in Western France, responsible for ship building, warehouses and dockyards. But once the shipyards closed in 1987, the island started to look like a tragic ghost town.
Island in the River Loire,
Since then, the Machines of the Isle has been created by 2 artist-inventors, resurrecting the derelict warehouses of the former shipyards. They were “visualising a travel-through-time world at the crossroads of the imaginary worlds of Jules Verne and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci”.
Three major machine-projects were planned from the beginning, two of them now completed and operational: Great Elephant in 2007 and Marine Worlds Carrousel in 2012. The final project, the Heron Tree, will not be finished until next year. But that doesn’t matter since in this post, I want to talk about elephants. Nantes’ mechanical elephant is amazing and huge (12 ms high). It is made from reclaimed wood and steel, and is so strong that it can carry 50 passengers for a 45-minute walk. To impress the people watching the performance, the elephant emerges trumpeting from its hangar and sprays visitors with water from its trunk. To impress the passengers on board, it is possible discover the structure of the machinery from the inside and to feel each vibration, while enjoying the impressive view of Nantes.
I am not sure if these three elephants compare well against the Eiffel Tower and Chartres Cathedral as engineering marvels of their times, but the French must have found them very appealing. As did the tourists.