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Bastille Day - France's Independence Day

Bastille Day is much like Independence Day in the United States - It is the celebration of a new form of government. Bastille Day symbolizes the overthrow of the old monarchy and the beginning of the French republic.

The Bastille

The Bastille was built in 1382 and was originally used to defend the east side of Paris from attack. The Bastille had walls more than 80 feet high and was surrounded by a moat. Hundreds of years later, the French monarchy converted The Bastille into a prison to lock up people who didn’t agree with their decisions. People were jailed by arbitrary decision of the King. The Bastille was, in particular, known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government. The prisoners inside the Bastille were given no trial – they were placed there under the king’s orders and only he could decide when and if they would be freed.

The Bastille became a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of King Louis XVI’s Ancient Regime. For the peasant class, the Bastille stood as a symbol of the hypocrisy and corruption of the aristocratic government – controlled mostly by nobility and clergy. The monarchy wasn’t just undemocratic. The king and the aristocracy also owned the land and extracted not only the rent, but imposed taxes and restrictions on the people. The French people of all classes were frustrated with many of the problems of their government, including wanting the king to share his absolute powers, the right to own land and vote, tithes and feudal rights, religious staff wanting more money.

The Beginning of the Revolution

Due to these many reasons, the French people stormed and seized The Bastille on July 14th, 1789. Violent peasants pillaged and burned chateaux, and destroyed records of feudal dues. At the time of its capture, the Bastille only held seven prisoners. But the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens. By capturing this symbol, the people signaled that the king’s power was no longer absolute: power should be passed on to the Nation and be limited by a separation of powers.

The storming of the Bastille was the beginning of the French Revolution that toppled King Louis XVI and the aristocracy. For all citizens of France, the storming of the Bastille came to symbolize liberty and democracy in the struggle against oppression.

Modern Day Celebrations

Bastille Day was declared a French national holiday on July 6th, 1880. Bastille Day has such a strong signification for the French because the holiday symbolizes the birth of the Republic.

Bastille Day is commemorated world-wide. For instance, in Philadelphia people dressed as French revolutionaries mark the day by singing the La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

In France, the day holds many festivities. Military parades are held in the morning, the largest of which takes place on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic. The parade opens with cadets from certain schools, followed by infantry troops, which are then followed by motorized troops. During the entire parade, aviation flies above. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France’s close allies into the parade. For instance, in 2002 cadets from the United States Military Academy paraded.

Bastille Day also falls during the running of the Tour de France, and is traditionally the day upon which French riders will make a special effort to take a stage victory for France. Parisians celebrate this national holiday with colorful arts festivals and raucous parties. Many cities hold fireworks during the night. It is also customary that firefighters organize dancing parties. Everyone is encouraged to raise a glass of champagne and toast the national freedom they’ve enjoyed for more than 200 years.

Celebrate Bastille Day at Home

This July, why not join the citizens of France in a celebration of national freedom and plan a Bastille Day fete.

About the Author: Jane S. Roseen is the Owner and President of Harmony Sweets, an international gourmet chocolate shop. Harmony Sweets' mission focuses on individual consumers purchasing gourmet chocolates from around the world for their friends and relatives, as well as corporate gift giving. Gourmet chocolate gift baskets and personalized chocolates are also available.


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