We often tend to associate brothels with the shadows of society, a world shrouded in scandal and mystery. But did you realize that these establishments have a remarkably rich and varied history? Welcome to an exciting journey tracing the history of the world’s most notorious brothels.

Delving into the annals of history, we find a fascinating and scandalous narrative of the world’s most notorious brothels. These establishments, often cloaked in mystery and taboo, have served as the backdrop for many intriguing stories throughout time.

From the exuberant bordellos of ancient Pompeii, preserved in time by volcanic ash, to the infamous haunts of the American Wild West, these houses of pleasure have a long and colourful history. They were complex institutions, often reflecting the societal norms and attitudes of their time, and were frequented by individuals from all walks of life.

In the heart of Paris, the renowned Le Chabanais was a beacon of decadence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Frequented by not only the city’s elite but also royalty from around the globe, it was renowned for its extravagant interiors and high-class courtesans.

Venturing to Asia, Yoshiwara in Edo-era Tokyo was a walled district of courtesans and geishas. Despite its seedy reputation, it was also a centre of arts and culture, influencing Japanese literature, fashion, and theatre.

In the heartland of Australia, Kalgoorlie’s historic Hay Street was once home to a flourishing brothel industry during the Gold Rush era. Today, it provides a glimpse into the risqué past of Australia’s pioneering days.

The Birth Of Brothels:

The birth of brothels or ‘houses of ill fame’ can be traced back to ancient times. In 2400 BC, the city of Uruk, in modern-day Iraq, was believed to have a temple dedicated to the goddess Ishtar where sacred prostitution was practiced. These sacred brothels were a part of the religious practices, symbolizing the union of the human and the divine.

The Golden Age Of Brothels:

The golden age of brothels began in the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution led to rapid urbanization, and brothels became a fixture of city life. In Paris, ‘maisons closes’ or closed houses offered a variety of sexual services in a sophisticated environment. London’s infamous ‘Harris’s List’ provided a guide to the city’s prostitutes, while in America, brothels thrived in the Wild West.

Famous Brothels In History:

Throughout history, some brothels have gained notoriety. The One-Two-Two in Paris was renowned for its opulence and high-profile clientele. In contrast, Japan’s Yoshiwara, a licensed red-light district in Edo (now Tokyo), was famed for its beautiful courtesans. The Dumas Brothel in Montana, the longest-running brothel in the United States, operated for 92 years before closing in 1982.

The Oldest Brothels:

The world’s oldest brothels provide a fascinating glimpse into the past. The Lupanar of Pompeii, buried under volcanic ash in AD 79, has explicit frescoes depicting various sexual positions. In contrast, the red-light district of De Wallen in Amsterdam has been in operation since the 14th century and is still active today.

Modern Legal Brothels:

Today, legal brothels operate in several countries, including Nevada in the USA, where establishments like the Moonlite Bunny Ranch offer a regulated, safe environment for sex workers. Germany’s Pascha in Cologne is one of the largest brothels in Europe, with over 120 prostitutes working there.

The Culture Of Brothels:

Brothels are not just places of sexual commerce; they have also contributed to art and culture. Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings of the Moulin Rouge, a famous brothel in Paris, capture the bohemian life of the city. The brothel culture also inspired works like Bizet’s opera, Carmen, and novels such as Henry Miller’s ‘Quiet Days in Clichy.’


Brothels have played a significant role in society throughout history, from the sacred temples of ancient times to the regulated establishments of today. They offer a unique lens to view the evolution of sexual norms, gender roles, and societal attitudes towards sex work. The history of the world’s best brothels provides a fascinating, if sometimes controversial, journey into our shared past.