Most French people will tell you that bread is a basic food, that they won’t go a day without it… our milling industry has therefore always been thriving!

For many centuries, women painfully ground grains by hand to obtain the precious flour but this was a very tedious and time consuming exercise.

Windmill in France
17th century restored and working windmill

The first known wind-driven wheel that powered a grinder machine was invented by the Greek engineer Heron of Alexandria during the 1st century BC.

For many centuries to follow – and according to Wikipedia : “windmills had sails that rotated in a horizontal plane around a vertical axis. In north-western Europe, the horizontal-axis or vertical windmill (so called due to the plane of the movement of its sails) is believed to date from the last quarter of the 12th century in the triangle of northern France, eastern England and Flanders”.

Mills powered by wind or water were part of the French landscape, every village had at least one mill…and millers were very well-off.

Paris milling industry thrived until the late 19th century when countless windmills could still be seen crowning the hills surrounding the capital.

Most were demolished to allow for land development but one of them located on Montmartre Hill was kept and converted into an entertainment hall known as Moulin de la Galette. The mill is still there and is the only witness of a bygone era.

Sadly very few working traditional windmills still remain in France but this is changing as more and more municipalities invest in their restoration and re-discover the ancestral milling and bread making techniques. Most bakeries or boulangeries now sell “pain à l’ancienne”.


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About the author

I am French Parisienne and lived in Asia for nearly 20 years before settling in the UK 3 years ago. I have an interest in everything and every culture and am an avid reader. French linguistics is my "specialty" but I have a passion for history and try to mingle them. Humour is very important to me, I love writing, talking, laughing, exchanging ideas, learning more from others... the world is full of fascinating people! I never leave my home without my camera, there is always something unusual, beautiful or strange to capture. I like to pay attention to details, to the world of the "small", a parallel world if you take the time to look for it...And above all, I love my country of birth, France.