Bastille Day – Celebrate the French Way

To the French, July 14th; Bastille Day or ‘Fête Nationale’ is much like America’s Independence Day representing a hugely important day in the French national calendar. It is the day when France celebrates the introduction of a form of government. Bastille Day symbolises the overthrow of the old monarchy and the beginning of the French republic.

The Bastille was built in 1382 and originally defended the eastern side of Paris from attack. The Bastille was constructed with walls more than 80 feet high and was surrounded by a moat or fosse. Hundreds of years later, the ruling monarchy converted The Bastille into a prison. The Bastille soon became a hated symbol of the monarchy as it was in the Bastille that the King and the royal government would hold dissidents and other political prisoners without trial. Prisoners were sent there simply under the King’s orders and only he could decide on and grant pardon and release.

Although the storming of the Bastille is seen a the focal point for the beginning of the French Revolution, it’s existence alone was not sufficient for the revolution to start. The build up to the act on July 14th 1789 was the culmination of a backlash against the absolute and arbitrary power of King Louis XVI’s Ancient Regime. The French monarchy wasn’t just undemocratic; it also owned the land against which it raised taxes as well as taking rent. The broad spectrum of French people was angry and frustrated with the aristocracy not conceding towards a more modern democratically based society.

As a hated symbol and being in the heart of Paris, the Bastille was a perfect target for the protestors. At the time of the actual ‘storming’ of the Bastille, it is reported that there were actual negotiations being held on a peaceful handover of the prison, however the protestors broke into one of the outer compounds and a bloody seize began. At the end of the day, nearly 100 protestors had lost their lives to only one soldier, although more soldiers were to be killed by the lynch mob.

Having stormed the Bastille, more violent acts took place with peasants rampaging and destroying many chateaux, and more importantly records of feudal taxes and rents due.

It is recognized by many historians that the storming of the Bastille had a more symbolic than strategic part in the actual revolution. It represented a statement of liberty and the fight against oppression. By seizing the Bastille the peasants signaled that the monarch’s power was no longer absolute.

Bastille Day is commemorated world-wide with people dressing as French revolutionaries and embracing the day by the singing the La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

In Paris, military parades are held in the morning, the largest of which takes place on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic. During the rest of the day there are numerous organized events noisy and boisterous parties with the day culminating in splendid organized firework displays. Everyone in France is encouraged to celebrate the act of freedom represented by the storming of the Bastille.

Why not celebrate this year’s Bastille Day by organizing a celebration yourself Karnival Costumes have a range of Frenchman instant fancy dress costumes and French berets which makes for a perfect party theme. Go on, raise a glass to Democracy.