Happy Bastille Day!: Now what is it?
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Bastille Day is July 14 this year and every year in France. It is the French National Day which celebrates the unity of the french people and commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. So what exactly is a Bastille, you want to know?
The Bastille was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, for the district that it was in. For most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. The fortress was originally built to defend the eastern gate of the city of Paris from the English threat in the Hundred Years’ War, in the 1300s. It was a strong fortress with eight towers which protected that highly strategic entrance at the eastern edge of Paris. It was made into a state prison in 1417, used by both the invading English and the French. As Paris grew and spread beyond the gates, the Bastille became surrounded by houses, and was a less of a fortress and more of a prison. King Louis XIV used the Bastille to lock away any of the nobility who opposed him or angered him. Under kings Louis XV and XVI, the fortress was used to detain prisoners from all classes and as a police station, prison and arsenal.
On July 14th, 1789the Bastille was stormed by a crowd filled with revolutionary zeal, some intent on freeing the prisoners, others who wanted the valuable gunpowder held within the fortress. The seven remaining prisoners were found and released. This revolt was the start of the French Revolution. The Bastille became an important symbol for the French Republican movement, and was later demolished and replaced by the Place de la Bastille.
But how do they celebrate Bastille Day?
- Every July 14, a large military parade takes place along the Champs Elysées, the famous French avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomphe. It is the biggest parade that takes place in all of Europe. During the 2015 parade, three different anti-terror squads marched in the parade to honor the 10,000 troops that helped secure safety in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
- Another part of the celebrations are the Fireman’s Balls. In this tradition, which started in 1937, fire stations open their doors to host fundraising dance parties. The money collected goes to help funding of the fire stations all over France.
- And another thing you must be aware of—you never wish a Frenchman (or woman) Happy Bastille Day. In France, July 14th is always la fête du 14-juillet (the July 14th holiday) or more officially, la fête nationale (The National Holiday). And everyone sings La Marseillaise, which is the French national anthem. “Allons enfants de la patrie…”
- Bastille Day isn’t a celebration only in France; it is celebrated all over the world. Two of the largest outside France are in the United States: in New Orleans, where Francophiles celebrate the holiday for a week long, and in New York City, where a block party takes place on 60th street.
Books and other materials you may want to a take a look at:
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens really shows you the French Revolution. If you haven’t read it in a while, maybe think about reading it again. It’s the easiest to read, in my opinion.
- To get in the French mood, consider reading a book by Alexandre Dumas. He wrote The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo and more novels set in France.
- If you want to know more about the Dumas family, think about reading the Black Count: Glory, Revolution and Betrayal and The Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. And yes, Alexandre Dumas was black.
- We have books on traveling to Paris and France in the travel section. Find them in 914.4. This is also the same call number for finding the DVDs on traveling to France.
- For a great background on Paris during the Revolution, you may want to read The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, 1830-1900 by David McCullough. This author excels at writing historical fiction that is readable and enjoyable.
- https://jeparleamericain.com/2011/07/14/happy-bastille-day/ (great graphic at bottom of page!)