Today (14th July) is Bastille Day, when France celebrates the sacrifice its citizens made to create a republic based on liberty, equality and fraternity. This marks the day, in 1789, when revolutionaries stormed the famous Bastille prison, in eastern Paris; a symbol of the autocratic monarchy that lived in pampered luxury, whilst its people starved.
Originally a medieval fortress, the Bastille was known for housing political prisoners on the King’s orders. This meant that those prisoners had no right to appeal their sentences. This was just one example of the King’s absolute power to which the revolutionaries objected. In actual fact, when the Bastille was stormed, there were only a few prisoners being held there as it was gradually being used less and less as a prison, but it was the symbolism of the place that attracted the revolutionaries. It is the toppling of this symbol of the Ancien Régime that is seen as heralding the beginning of the French Revolution.
There was another reason to attack the Bastille. Earlier in the day, the revolutionary mob had raided the Hôtel des Invalides, looting many arms but no ammunition. As well as prisoners, the Bastille was home to a large amount of gunpowder, which the rebels needed to fuel their struggle against the monarchy.
The Fête Nationale, as Bastille Day is more commonly known in France, is a national holiday celebrating not only the beginning of the French Revolution, but the country itself. One of the most famous events is the annual military parade, which has been held on the morning of the 14th July almost every year since 1880. The parade starts at l’Arc de Triomphe, passing through the Champs-Elysées before reaching the Place de la Concorde; the huge central square at the heart of Paris. The parade is televised and is still a very popular event in France, taking place in front of the President of the French Republic, important officials and foreign dignitaries, as well as huge crowds of spectators.
We offer school history tours to Paris, to bring students face-to-face with the French Revolution. The opportunity to visit the key locations really brings this crucial period of French history to life. If you have any questions about our French Revolution-themed school history tours, please do not hesitate to contact us.