Bastille Day Comes and Goes

Bastille Day fireworks in Paris, 2006
Fireworks in Paris, 2006 commemorating Bastille Day, July 14, 1789

In The USA and Elsewhere

Though a French holiday, Bastille Day in the US is celebrated in many urban areas, including New Orleans, Baltimore, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York City. Around the world, you can find lively festivals in Hungary, Belgium, the UK  (London) and Quebec Province in Canada. Like the Fourth of July in the US and Canada Day (July 1), this July holiday provides a convenient excuse for lighting up the summer’s night sky with a flurry of fireworks. I guess there is something in our human nature that wants to do this kind of activity on some of the shortest and warmest nights of the year.

Demolition of The Bastille in Paris, France
The Bastille in Paris, France was demolished shortly after its takeover on July 14, 1789, Anonymous, from Wikipedia

The Bastille

The Bastille was originally a fortress built between 1370 and 1380 by King Charles V of France. However, over the years, the mighty structure was used more often to keep prisoners in rather than invaders out. And so over the following centuries, the towering walls were frequently used to contain the favorite enemies and threats to the Kings of France. This change occurred most notably around 1600 during the reign of Henry IV and his son Louis XIII. The heyday of the prison occurred during the reign of Louis XIV, when over a thousand prisoners, mostly political were housed here.  By the time Louis the XVI came to power the prison was mostly used to hold a small number of petty criminals and degenerates.

And in 1789, when the building was stormed by protesters the place only held eight only prisoners with over a 100  troops defending the gigantic edifice.  On the day the Bastille fell, nearly a hundred protesters died, while just a few of the defenders perished. Still, the attackers managed to get inside and seize much-needed ammunition and gunpowder for their cause. They also captured several Swiss defenders and executed them in the street.

Importance of the Bastille

The importance of the Bastille was more symbolic than anything else, for it represented two centuries of rule by powerful French kings, who had no second thoughts about incarcerating royal dissidents. The building’s destruction also gave the revolutionary movement a cause and something to cheer about, even though the most hideous days of the prison had long passed.

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One thought on “Bastille Day Comes and Goes

  1. Very interesting piece of history I never knew about. I should ask my friends in Quebec more about it as well as what they might have done, since we in Ontario don’t get such a holiday.

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