Bastille Fortress

Bastille Day, which the French call Quatorze Juillet, has been a French National day since 1880.

It was institutionalized after the storming of the Bastille Fortress on July 14, 1789.

The first stone of the Bastille Fortress was laid in 1370, in the extension of the already existing city walls.

Demolition of the Bastille in July 1789 - Bastille day
Demolition of the Bastille in July 1789

Eight 24m high round towers flanked the fortress and and 25m wide moats protected it.

It ceased to be a military fortress in the late 16th century and was converted into a state prison.

Seven prisoners were still imprisoned in the Bastille on July 14, 1789 when 633 revolutionaries seized it.

Ironically, most of these men were of German origin and worked as cabinetmakers in the nearby St-Antoine district.

Demolition began the following day and was completed in 1792.

Most stones were used to erect the Pont de la Concorde.

The remaining stones were used for the creation of 83 models of the fortress.

A model was sent to each French department in order to commemorate the end of the monarchy.

Dark cobblestones today mark the layout of the fortress on Place de la Bastille.

What is Bastille Day?

Bastille Day – Quatorze Juillet (14th July) – Fête Nationale or colloquially Fet. Nat. is not a commemoration of the storming of the fortress.

It is the commemoration of the Fête de la Fédération – Festival of the Federations.

This event took place a year later on the Champ de Mars on July 14, 1790 to celebrate in great pomp the first anniversary of the insurrection.

However, the commemoration of July 14 was abandoned in the years that followed.

The storming of the Bastille was indeed deemed too tragic and therefore couldn’t carry the symbol of freedom, equality and fraternity.

July 14 celebrations were revived after the French were defeated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71.

An act of parliament was passed in 1880 to make the day a National Day to revive the country patriotism and celebrate its recovery.

How do French celebrate?

Bastille Day is one of the most observed public holidays of the year and brings together all social classes.

Bastille Day Celebrations on Champs Elysees
Bastille Day Celebrations

This is indeed an opportunity for a spectacular and meticulously planned military parade on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.

It is recommended to arrive very early in order to secure a front row place.

French and foreign guest troops march down from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde while the Patrouille de France flies over.

Troops then split in front of the huge canopy, where the president of the Republic and his guests of honour stand.

The parade is followed by a garden party in the gardens of the Elysée Palace.

A spectacular fireworks display is organized in the evening on the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower and is followed by street celebrations.

Republican Guards 1st Infantry parade on Bastille Day
Republican Guards 1st Infantry parade on Bastille Day

Bastille Day ball – Bal du Quatorze Juillet is a veritable institution, which has evolved to also become the celebration of French culture.

All through France communities and individuals throw parties, speeches, special illuminations, shows and banquets.

These festivities always end with an amazing display of fireworks, which become more and more innovative by the year.

People dance in the street and have fun until dawn, and this since 1880!

Bastille Day is also an opportunity for the President of the Republic to grant remissions.

If you decide to visit Paris on July 14th, you will find many shops open.

However, it will be very different if you travel to the province as everyone is busy celebrating.

It’s best to follow the flow and enjoy the day.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Bastille Fortress in 1420 Public domain –  Bastille during demolition Public domain1st Infantry Republican Guard CC BY 2.5

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