Bastille Day, observed annually on 14th July, is the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille on the same day in 1789 in Paris, France. It was originally built as a medieval fortress and eventually it came to be used as a state prison. Bastille Day also commemorates the unity of the French people at the Fête de la Fédération on 14th July, 1790. It is a major event of the French Revolution. The French celebrate Bastille Day as a way to recognize the significance of the Storming of the Bastille as the end of the royal monarchy and the beginning of its modern republic. It is a day of national celebration and holiday in France.
What is Bastille?
The Bastille is a fortress which was built during the Hundred Years War between France and England. It had eight towers that were 100 feet (30 meters) high, all connected by high walls that, making it hard to break in or out. There was also a moat around it that was more than 80 feet (24 meters) wide so no one could get inside without being seen first. It was later transformed into a prison where people were locked up without a trial and was associated with the harsh rule of the Bourbon monarchy. On July 14, 1789, troops stormed the Bastille which became a pivotal event at the beginning of the French Revolution.
History of Bastille Day
The day commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14th July, 1789 and Fête de la Fédération which was held on 14th July, 1790. On the morning of July 14, the people of Paris seized weapons from the armory at the Invalides and marched in the direction of the Bastille. After a bloody round of firing, the crowd broke into the Bastille and released the handful of prisoners held there. Fête de la Fédération was designed to inaugurate a new era which abolished absolutism and gave birth to a French constitutional monarchy. This was the first victory of the people of Paris against a symbol of the “Ancien Régime” (Old Regime). Almost hundred years later, on 30th June 1878, official celebrations were held in Paris and more celebrations were held on 14th July, 1879. People in France thought it was an important idea to have a national day that remembered the Revolution. In 1880, a politician named Benjamin Raspail proposed that July 14 should become a holiday in France and the law was enacted on 6th July, 1880.
Bastille Day Facts
- In France this day is officially known as la Fête Nationale, or “The National Holiday.” Bastille day is an English term for the day that is used by non French individuals.
- The Bastille, formally known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, was a fortress in the Hundred Years War and the main purpose of the fortress to keep invading armies out. The strategic location of the fortress helped stall an attack on Paris from the east. It became a royal prison in 1417 with eight towers and a moat and housed anyone who revolted against the King, so storming it felt like a liberation for the people. The practice of jailing the enemies in Bastille was started by Cardinal de Richelieu, under King Louis XIII. The storming of Bastille became a symbol of the people’s dislike of the monarchy.
- The storming of the Bastille took place in 1789 when the time tensions between the people and royalty were at an all time high. This is seen as the beginning of the French revolution and the basis of the constitution of modern-day France.
- While breaking into the Bastille, the revolutionists expected to find numerous inmates but there were only seven captives.
- Even though the storming took place in 1789, the law to make Bastille Day a national celebration was passed in 1880.
- On the day there is a large military parade on the Champs Elysees in Paris. It began in 1880 and is not only the oldest but also the largest regular military parade in Europe. In this parade, troops from other nations too march alongside their French counterparts.
- Bastille Day has become a international holiday as it is celebrated not only in France but also in places which were earlier under French rule, French communities and the Institut de France around the world. It is celebrated in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and in the United States.
- The mob that stormed the Bastille stole all the weapons they could find to use in their revolution against the monarchy.
- The famous writer and philosopher Voltaire was once a prisoner of the Bastille.
- Pieces of the Bastille were sold as souvenirs, and the Marquis de Lafayette gave the prison’s key to George Washington as a gift. It is kept on display today at Mount Vernon.
Bastille Day Celebration
Bastille Day is a day of celebrations of French culture. It is a public holiday in France. The traditional military parade on the Champs-Elysées is the main event. Several other public events including a military parade in Paris, as well as communal meals, musical performances, dances, parties and fireworks are held on this day. Service men and women from various units, including cadets from military schools, the French Navy and the French Foreign Legion, participate in the famous parade. The French president opens the parade and reviews the troops and thousands of people line the route. It is a day of leisurely family activities and celebrations. People go for picnics, or to restaurants and host parties. The celebrations are all about France’s tricolor flag and the words “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” Both are symbols of France from the French Revolution days. The biggest celebration is a classical concert by the Eiffel Tower leading up to fantastic fireworks exploding high above the iconic monument.
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