What is Bastille Day and why does France celebrate it?
Paris, July 14th, 1789: Deep political unrest and economic crisis plagues the French capital. An out of touch Louis XVI has been in power for the last 15 years and has become increasingly unable to manage anti-monarchist forces…
For those who may not know, The Bastille in Paris was a medieval fortress & prison and a symbol of tyrannical rule to French citizens at the time. In the summer of 1789, conflict between the Royalist and Anti-Monarchists broke out across Paris and an armed mob had surrounded the Bastille by the morning of the 14th July. Before too long, they had stormed into the fortress and following hours of bloody fighting, they had taken it.
This event proved to revolutionaries across the country that King Louis’s power and control over his armed forces had waned. It became a starting point for the revolution to spread, eventually leading to the overthrowing of the monarchy and the execution of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette in 1793.
So why do the French still celebrate the storming of a prison?
Well, rather than commemorating the storming of the Bastille itself, it is more a day to celebrate the three principles of the republican national motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. Like with Independence Day in the United States, it is a day for celebrating all things French – think the tricolore flag and La Marseillaise – both of which originate from the revolution.
And now, 229 years later, the 14th July remains a public holiday in France and is a day celebrated with an abundance of parades, fireworks and communal eating. Most notably perhaps, the oldest military parade in the world takes place along the Champs-Elysee with thousands of participants and attendees. And so, with those three principles in mind, it is safe to say that freedom, fairness and togetherness remain at the heart of the French way of life to this day.