The storming of the Bastille (which means fortification) took place on 14 July 1789, and marked the beginning of The French Revolution. To the people of Paris, the Bastille prison was a symbol that represented all that was wrong and corrupt with the rule of the French monarchy and King Louis XVI in particular. Although it only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, the overturning of the Bastille was a victory for the fight against oppression for all French citizens. Like the Tricolor flag, it symbolised the burgeoning Republic’s three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all.
There were numerous causes and grievances that had led to the violent rebellion that became known as The French Revolution. The most important were connected with parliament wanting the king to share his absolute power with them; and the monarch’s subsequent unwavering refusal to change the balance of power. The middle classes also wanted the opportunity to vote, the nobility wanted a share of the monarch’s power, and the lower classes were tired of being oppressed with extreme taxation and the suppression of land and feudal rights.
The first official Bastille Day was declared on 6 July 1880, on the recommendation of the politician Benjamin Raspail, to mark the moment when the new French Republic was born and the absolute rule of the monarchy finally wiped away.
Today, Bastille Day is celebrated with a variety of public events, the most famous of which is the Bastille Day Military Parade. This parade runs down the Champs-Elysee from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde, and takes place on the morning of July 14th in Paris, just as it did on the very first Bastille Day in 1880.
Other popular events include large picnics, musical performances, dances, firework shows, and the first of the domestic stages in the annual cycle race, The Tour de France.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.