Deep Dive In History: Storming the Bastille

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Thursday, Jul 14 2022 by

The United States had the Boston Tea Party to kick off their Revolution, and France had the storming of the Bastille. On July 14, 1789, angry citizens stormed the Bastille to free prisoners and take over the weapons cache at the prison. Now known as France’s national holiday, Bastille Day is celebrated across the country with a large military parade, fireworks, and local gatherings. Let’s take a look back at the events leading up to the storming of the prison, and some great places to celebrate the holiday.

Place de la Bastille, Paris, France

The Place de la Bastille is a square in Paris where the Bastille prison once stood. The prison was built in the 1300s as a fortress, and then turned into a prison and military depot.

When the Bastille was stormed by around 1,000 angry civilians, it was largely unused and had seven prisoners, but it was a symbol of the monarchy and the military force used to keep the current regime in place. It was also the location of a huge cache of gunpowder, which was seized that day.

After the storming of the Bastille, the prison was destroyed, and finally demolished in the 1830s.

Place de la Bastille (Google Maps)
Place de la Bastille

A few stones of the original prison were discovered in 1899. They were moved to a nearby park, where they are on display at Square Henri-Galli.

Remains of the Bastille in Square Galli (Google Maps)
Remains of the Bastille in Square Galli

Palais-Royal, Paris, France

In the summer of July, 1789, the National Assembly met to work out contentious economic and political issues. The Palais-Royal, home to the royal prince Phillipe, Duke of Orleans, became a central location for protests and pro-revolutionary gatherings in the days leading up to the storming. The duke, cousin to King Louis VXI, supported the revolution and a change in government.

The venue was more than a residence, it was also a commercial and social hub, with shopping plazas, theaters, and cafes. Today, the expansive buildings are home to government agencies.

Palais Royal (Google Maps)
Palais Royal

Hotel des Invalides, Paris, France

After being riled up for days, nearly 50,000 men protested and raided throughout Paris. A militia formed and raided the Hotel des Invalides, taking guns and cannon to be used against the military that King Louis XVI was gathering in the city. However, the storehouse had no gunpowder, so leaders led the crowd along to the Bastille.

In 1840, Napoleon’s tomb was placed under the great dome in an elaborate ceremony. Today, it is a popular tourist location for people who want to see the final resting place of the man who nearly conquered all of Europe.

Cannons at the Hotel des Invalides (Google Maps)
Cannons at the Hotel des Invalides

Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France

Upon hearing of the successful attack on the Bastille, the King decided to return to Paris from Versailles, the home to kings of France since the days of Louis XIV. It was reported that the king asked if the events were a revolt, and was told “it was a revolution”. History tells us this event was indeed the turning point of France rejecting the monarchy and moving toward a more democratic form of government.

Versailles, with all its ornamentation and excess, represented all that the poor working people of Paris resented and fought against. When Louis XVI returned to Paris, he was quickly placed under the watch and control of the National Assembly, and he would kept as a sort of prisoner until he was executed.

Palace of Versailles (Birds Eye)
Palace of Versailles

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France

One national celebration of Bastille Day hearkens back to the militia marching through the city. Annually on July 14, there’s a large military parade along the Champs-Elysees, a main thoroughfare in the capital city. The parade starts at the Arc de Triomphe, the large arch that honors fallen soldiers from the French Revolution as well as the Napoleonic Wars.

About 70 planes, 25 helicopters, as well as regiments on horse and foot, will participate in the hour-long parade this year. It ends at the Place de la Concord at the other end of the Champs-Elysees. Once called the Place de la Revolution, it was the site of many executions during the Revolution, including the beheading of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.

Arc de Triumphe (StreetView)
Arc de Triumphe

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

In the evening, the Eiffel Tower is center stage for an impressive fireworks display. Fireworks are lit behind the structure, illuminating it and providing for an amazing backdrop for the national celebration.

The Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889, to serve as a centerpiece for the World Fair that year. The 330 meter tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, and is a key symbol of France.

Eiffel Tower (Birds Eye)
Eiffel Tower

Champs de Mars, Paris, France

Viewers gather along the Champs de Mars for the best views, which holds particular meaning for French independence, as it was where the first federal independence event was celebrated, on July 14, 1790. It was also the site of a massacre by soldiers of republican protesters, as well as a central place for beheadings during the revolution itself.

Champs-de-Mars (Google Maps)

Fireworks and dancing take place across the country all evening as the country gathers to celebrate the founding principles of the republic: liberty, fraternity, and equality.