Bastille Day – History and Facts

Bastille Day

With a month left for us to celebrate 15th August,  the Indian Independence Day,  let us take part in the celebration of the independence of France, which falls on the 14th of July, and is known as the Bastille Day.

Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries to the French National Day, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In France, it is formally called La fête national and commonly Le quatorze Juillet.

Why ‘Bastille Day’?

The day is called the ‘Bastille Day’  because it marks the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, by angry Parisian crowds.

This courageous act was a signal that ordinary people would no longer accept the absolute power of the king and it led to the start of the French Revolution which forced the creation of the modern French Republic. 

The July 14 “Fête de la Fédération” – which marked the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille – became a French national holiday in 1880 and has been observed ever since. 

What was the Bastille?

The Bastille was originally a medieval fortress build on the east of Paris to defend the city from the English in the 100 Years War. Later, in 1417, it was made to a state prison where opponents were kept for years, without any trial.

The French were already angered over the persistently high taxes, soaring food price and a revolutionary passion was ignited in them for over 2 years prior to storming of the Bastille.

In 1789, King Louis XVI called a crisis meeting in a bid to raise taxes further. Furious at the prospect, the Estates-General took action and formed the National Assembly on June 17. They took the “Tennis Court Oath” three days later, vowing “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require until the constitution of the kingdom is established.”

By the beginning of July, a furious and aggressive mob decided to target the feared Bastille prison, because it was a symbol of the heavy-handedness of royal rule and oppression by the ruling classes at a time when the poor were starving. 

On July 14, 300 revolutionaries surrounded the prison. The guards resisted so the attackers marched forward and after a ferocious battle, they eventually captured the building, pulling down its walls and releasing the seven inmates, who were kept captured. The governor was also seized and killed.

What Happened Next?

What took place next is what we call the French Revolution. It was gradual, but there were a few drastic changes seen instantly.

In August, just a few weeks after the storming of the Bastille, the National Assembly abolished feudalism and adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as its constitution which followed  the norm: “Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights.” 

In October, Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette, who lived a luxurious life in their massive enclave at the Palace of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris, were removed from their home by 4,000 rioters and moved to the Tuileries, in the heart of Paris where revolutionaries kept watching over them.

France was finally declared a Republic in September that year, bring the 800-year-old monarchy to an end, and in January the following year, Louis XVI was executed on the grounds of treason.

How is the Bastille Day Celebrated?

Bastille Day is a public holiday in France. So post offices, banks, and the majority of the businesses are closed. 

Celebrations are held throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Elysees in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests. This is a popular event in France, broadcast on French TV, and is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe. The parade ends with the Paris Fire Brigade. Military aircraft fly over the parade route during the parade.

In the evening, huge fireworks light up the capital from the Eiffel Tower. 

Many people attend large-scale public celebrations. These often include:

  • Military and civilian parades.
  • Musical performances.
  • Communal meals.
  • Dances.
  • Balls.
  • Spectacular fireworks displays.

What are the Symbols of Bastille Day?

The Eiffel Tower in Paris and the French national flag,  are important symbols of Bastille Day. The French national flag is one-and-a-half times as wide as it is tall. It consists of three vertical bands of equal width colored blue, white and red. The same colors are displayed in bunting and banners of many shapes on Bastille Day. People may also wear clothing or face paint in these colors.

Author: Lucas

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