By Kelli Drummer-Avendano
July 14, 1789 is considered the beginning of the French Revolution. On that day, common French citizens rose up against an unjust monarchy and attacked the Bastille fortress. Here are five important facts to know about the event that changed the course of history in France and around the world.
1. It’s called la Fête nationale or le 14 julliet.
This French national holiday is similar in spirit to the 4th of July in the United States. While France was not declaring independence from a colonizing nation, the French citizens were indeed asserting their freedom from a tyrannical monarchy. Today it’s celebrated in much the same way as July 4th, with fireworks, parades, and concerts.
2. Don’t miss the parade!
The Bastille Day military parade is the oldest and largest of its kind in Europe. It first took place in Paris in 1880 and has been held every year since that date. There were even parades during the German occupation from 1940 to 1944; only they took place in London, not Paris, under the direction of General Charles de Gaulle. Unfortunately, in 2020, it was cancelled for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. It’s celebrated around the world.
Many countries other than France recognize and celebrate Bastille Day, including New Zealand, India, Australia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. In the United States, various cities hold events and celebrations. For example, in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, complimentary cake and champagne is handed out to revelers who dress up in costumes.
4. The Bastille was a prison.
There may have only been seven prisoners held captive in the Bastille the day it was captured, but the symbolism remains the same. Over the years, the monarchy had sent many of its most outspoken opponents to that prison, so when it was taken over by the revolutionaries, the message was loud and clear: the king no longer had absolute power and the oppression of the French commoner was coming to an end.
5. Gunpowder was the goal.
The citizens who laid siege to the Bastille actually weren’t there to free political prisoners, though that became the popular narrative to boost the revolution. The true story is that earlier on July 14th, a mob of citizens had marched to the Hôtel des Invalides to steal firearms and cannons out of fear that King Louis XVI was looking to quell the imminent uprising. After they had the weapons the needed, they rushed to the Bastille in search of ammunition, and that’s where the battle began.