Bastille Fortress – symbol of royal absolutism

The Bastille Fortress stood on the western side of Place de la Bastille.

Place de la Bastille - Colonne de Juillet
Colonne de Juillet

The many cafes, brasseries, Opera Bastille and daily traffic jams turn the roundabout into one of the busiest in Paris.

However, if you ask French people, they’ll tell you that La Bastille is the symbol of the French Revolution.

Bastille Day is celebrated on July 14th and is undoubtedly the most important celebration after Christmas.

Hugues Aubriot, the provost of Paris, built the fortress against Porte St-Antoine, one of Charles V Wall‘s fortified gate, to protect the king’s residence Hôtel St-Pol.

The first stone of the Castel St-Antoine (as it was then known) was laid in 1370.

Eight 24m high round towers flanked the heavy rectangular building and 25m wide moats encompassed it.

The fortress was converted into a jail in the late 16th century. 

A simple letter signed by the king was enough to send a man in the dreary building.

French people therefore saw the Bastille Fortress as a symbol of royal absolutism.

Bastille Fortress – symbol of Revolution

The philosopher Voltaire was imprisoned there more than once (no freedom of speech then!)

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

Seven prisoners were still imprisoned in the Bastille on July 14, 1789.

The 633 men who seized it on that day were cabinetmakers from the nearby St. Antoine district. Ironically, most were of German origin!

Demolition began on 15th July 1789 and was completed in 1792.

The stones were re-used to complete the Pont de la Concorde

The remaining stones served to build the 83 models of the fortress which were sent to every French department to commemorate the end of the monarchy.

The ghosts of the Bastille Fortress

Lighter cobblestones, visible at the junction of the Boulevard Henri IV and Rue St-Antoine, mark the fortress’ floor-plan.

Place de la Bastille - Paving stones marking the layout of the fortress
Paving stones marking the layout of the fortress

A commemorative slab, mounted on the wall  at no.3 Place de la Bastille on July 14, 1880, depicts its layout. 

An inscription at no.5 Rue St-Antoine marks its former entrance.

Finally, the drawbridge was at the level of the current pedestrian crossing, at no.46 Boulevard Henri IV.

The Boulevards Bourdon and Beaumarchais replace the rampart that ended at the Seine.

The Place de la Bastille was created in 1803, however, Haussmann gave it its current appearance 50 years later.

Colonne de Juillet on Place de la Bastille

The Colonne of Juillet marks the centre of the Place de la Bastille.

Column of Place de la Bastille
Close-up on column

The shaft of the 52m tall bronze column is hollow. It has a diameter of 4m and weighs 170,000kg.

Two-hundred-and-thirty-eight steps lead up to the top platform and the gilded bronze statue of the Génie de la Bastille

This allegorical statue symbolises Liberty that flies away by breaking its chains and spreading light.

It commemorates the Trois Glorieuses, the riots of 27-28-29 July 1830 that led King Charles X to abdicate.

 A burial vault, in the basement, shelters the remains of the 504 victims of the up-rise.

The remains of 196 victims of the Revolution of February 23-24 1848 were added in March 1848 and their names engraved on the shaft.

The Colonne de Juillet is open to the public.

Directions: 4th/12th District
Metro: Bastille on Lines 1, 5, 8
Coordinates: Lat 48.853183 – Long 2.369144

Source Photo Wikimedia Commons: Fortress in 1420 Public Domain

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