Bastille Day

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This article is about the French national holiday. For other uses, see Bastille Day (disambiguation).
Bastille Day
Also called French National Day
(Fête nationale)
The Fourteenth of July
(Quatorze juillet)
Observed by France
Type National Day
Significance Commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789,[1][2] and the unity of the French people at the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790
Celebrations Military parades, fireworks, concerts, balls
Date 14 July
Next time 14 July 2016 (2016-07-14)
Frequency annual

Bastille Day is the name given in English-speaking countries to the French National Day, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In France, it is formally called La Fête nationale (French pronunciation: ​[la fɛːt nasjɔnal]; The National Celebration) and commonly Le quatorze juillet (French pronunciation: ​[lə katɔʁz(ə) ʒɥijɛ]; the fourteenth of July).

The French National Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789,[1][2] an important event in Paris in a violent revolution that had begun two days earlier,[3] as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests.[4][5]


Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

Storming of the Bastille[edit]

On 19 May 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General (les États-généraux) to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate (le Tiers État), representing the common people (the two others were the Catholic clergy (clergé, Roman Catholicism being the state religion at that time) and the nobility (noblesse)), decided to break away and form a National Assembly. The Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath (le serment du Jeu de paume, 20 June 1789), swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by (liberal) delegates of the other estates; Louis XVI started to recognize their validity[clarification needed] on 27 June. The assembly renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante) on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.[citation needed]

Jacques Necker, the finance minister, who was sympathetic to the Third Estate, was dismissed on 11 July. The people of Paris then stormed the Bastille, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal army or by foreign regiments of mercenaries in the king's service, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace. The Bastille was a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet (literally "signet letters"), arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed and did not indicate the reason for the imprisonment. The Bastille held a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, It was also known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the attack in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.[6]

The crowd was eventually reinforced by mutinous Gardes Françaises ("French Guards"), whose usual role was to protect public buildings. They proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, and Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. According to the official documents, about 200 attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was Jacques de Flesselles, the prévôt des marchands ("provost of the merchants"), the elected head of the city's guilds, who under the feudal monarchy also had the competences of a present-day mayor .[7]

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, late in the evening of 4 August, after a very stormy session of the Assemblée Constituante, feudalism was abolished. On 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen) was proclaimed (homme meaning both "man" and "human").[8]

Claude Monet, Rue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of 30 June 1878

Fête de la Fédération[edit]

The Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790 was a celebration of the unity of the French nation during the French Revolution. The aim of this celebration, one year after the Storming of the Bastille, was to symbolize peace. The event took place on the Champ de Mars, which was at the time far outside Paris. The place had been transformed on a voluntary[citation needed] basis by the population of Paris, in what was recalled as the Journée des brouettes ("Wheelbarrow Day").

A mass was celebrated by Talleyrand, bishop of Autun. The popular General Lafayette, as captain of the National Guard of Paris and a confidant of the king, took his oath to the constitution, followed by King Louis XVI. After the end of the official celebration, the day ended in a huge four-day popular feast and people celebrated with fireworks, as well as fine wine and running nude through the streets in order to display their great freedom.

Origin of the present celebration[edit]

On 30 June 1878, a feast was officially arranged in Paris to honour the French Republic (the event was commemorated in a painting by Claude Monet).[9] On 14 July 1879, there was another feast, with a semi-official aspect. The day's events included a reception in the Chamber of Deputies, organised and presided over by Léon Gambetta,[10] a military review at Longchamp, and a Republican Feast in the Pré Catelan.[11] All through France, Le Figaro wrote, "people feasted much to honour the storming of the Bastille".[12]

On 21 May 1880, Benjamin Raspail proposed a law to have "the Republic choose the 14 July as a yearly national holiday". The Assembly voted in favour of the proposal on 21 May and 8 June.[13] The Senate approved it on 27 and 29 June, favouring 14 July against 4 August (which would have commemorated the end of the feudal system on 4 August 1789). The law was made official on 6 July 1880, and the Ministry of the Interior recommended to Prefects that the day should be "celebrated with all the brilliance that the local resources allow".[this quote needs a citation] Indeed, the celebrations of the new holiday in 1880 were particularly magnificent.

In the debate leading up to the adoption of the holiday, Henri Martin, chairman of the French Senate, addressed that chamber on 29 June 1880:

Do not forget that behind this 14 July, where victory of the new era over the ancien régime was bought by fighting, do not forget that after the day of 14 July 1789, there was the day of 14 July 1790.... This [latter] day cannot be blamed for having shed a drop of blood, for having divided the country. It was the consecration of the unity of France.... If some of you might have scruples against the first 14 July, they certainly hold none against the second. Whatever difference which might part us, something hovers over them, it is the great images of national unity, which we all desire, for which we would all stand, willing to die if necessary.

— Henri Martin, Chairman of the Sénat, 1880[14]

Bastille Day Military Parade[edit]

The Bastille Day Military Parade is the French military parade that has been held on the morning of 14 July each year in Paris since 1880. While previously held elsewhere within or near the capital city, since 1918 it has been held on the Champs-Élysées, with the participation of the Allies as represented in the Versailles Peace Conference, and with the exception of the period of German occupation from 1940 to 1944 (when the ceremony took place in London under the command of General Charles de Gaulle).[15] The parade passes down the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where the President of the French Republic, his government and foreign ambassadors to France stand. This is a popular event in France, broadcast on French TV, and is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe.[4][5] In some years, invited detachments of foreign troops take part in the parade and foreign statesmen attend as guests.

Smaller military parades are held in French garrison towns, including Toulon and Belfort, with local troops.

Bastille Day celebrations in other countries[edit]

Budapest, Hungary; Bastille Day fireworks
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
    • Since 2008, Prague has hosted a French market "Le marché du 14 juillet" offering traditional French food and wine as well as music. The market takes place on Kampa Island, usually between 11 and 14 July.
  • Hungary
  • India
    • Bastille Day is celebrated with great festivity in Pondicherry, a former French colony, every year.[17] On the eve of the Bastille Day, retired soldiers parade and celebrate the day with Indian and French National Anthems. On the day, uniformed war soldiers march through the street to honor the French soldiers who were killed in the battles. One can perceive French and the Indian flag flying alongside that project the mishmash of cultures and heritages.
  • Republic of Ireland
    • The Embassy of France in Ireland organizes several events around Dublin, Cork and Limerick for Bastille Day; including evenings of French music and tasting of French food. Many members of the French community in Ireland take part in the festivities.
  • New Zealand
    • The Auckland suburb of Remuera hosts an annual French themed Bastille Day street festival.[18]
  • South Africa
    • Franschhoek's week-end festival[19] has been celebrated for the last 15 years. (Franschhoek, or 'French Corner,' is situated in the Western Cape.)
  • United Kingdom
  • United States – Over 50 U.S. cities conduct annual celebrations:[21]
    • Baltimore has a large Bastille Day celebration each year at Petit Louis in the Roland Park area of Baltimore City.
    • Boston has a celebration annually, hosted by the French Cultural Center for 40 years. The street festival occurs in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, near the Cultural Center's headquarters. The celebration includes francophone musical performers, dancing, and French cuisine.
    • Chicago has hosted a variety of Bastille Day celebrations in a number of locations in the city, including Navy Pier and Oz Park. The recent incarnations have been sponsored in part by the Chicago branch of the French-American Chamber of Commerce and by the French Consulate-General in Chicago.
    • Dallas's Bastille Day celebration, "Bastille On Bishop", began in 2010 and is held annually on 14 July in the Bishop Arts District of the North Oak Cliff neighborhood, southwest of downtown just across the Trinity River. Dallas' French roots are tied to the short lived socialist Utopian community La Réunion, formed in 1855 and incorporated into the City of Dallas in 1860.
    • Houston has a celebration at La Colombe d'Or Hotel. It is hosted by the Consulate General of France in Houston, The French Alliance, the French-American Chamber of Commerce, and the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts.[22]
    • Milwaukee's four-day[23] street festival begins with a "Storming of the Bastille" with a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower.
    • Minneapolis has a celebration in Uptown with wine, French food, pastries, a flea market, circus performers and bands. Also in the Twin Cities area, the local chapter of the Alliance Française has hosted an annual event for years at varying locations with a competition for the "Best Baguette of the Twin Cities."[24][25]
    • Montgomery, Ohio has a celebration with wine, beer, local restaurants' fare, pastries, games and bands.
    • New Orleans has multiple celebrations, the largest in the historic French Quarter.[26]
    • New York City has numerous Bastille Day celebrations each July, including Bastille Day on 60th Street hosted by the French Institute Alliance Française between Fifth and Lexington Avenues on the Upper East Side of Manhattan,[27] Bastille Day on Smith Street in Brooklyn, and Bastille Day in Tribeca. The Empire State Building is illuminated in blue, white and red.
    • Orlando has a boutique Bastille Day street festival that began in 2009 in the Audubon Park Garden District and involves champagne, wine, music, petanque, artists, and street performers.
    • Philadelphia's Bastille Day, held at Eastern State Penitentiary, involves Marie Antoinette throwing locally manufactured Tastykakes at the Parisian militia, as well as a re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille.[28]
    • Portland, Oregon has celebrated Bastille Day with crowds up to 8000, in public festivals at various public parks, since 2001. The event is coordinated by the Alliance Française of Portland.
    • Sacramento, California conducts annual "waiter races" in the midtown restaurant and shopping district, with a street festival.
    • San Francisco has a large celebration in the city's historic French Quarter in downtown.
    • Seattle's Bastille Day Celebration, held at the Seattle Center, involves performances, picnics, wine and shopping.
    • St. Louis has annual festivals in both the Soulard neighborhood and the former French village of Carondelet, Missouri which include reenactments of the beheading of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, as well as reconstructed French fur trading posts.
Bronze relief of a memorial dedicated to Bastille Day

One-time celebrations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Bastille Day – 14th July". Official Website of France. A national celebration, a re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille [...] Commemorating the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789, Bastille Day takes place on the same date each year. The main event is a grand military parade along the Champs-Élysées, attended by the President of the Republic and other political leaders. It is accompanied by fireworks and publics dances in towns throughout the whole of France. 
  2. ^ a b "La fête nationale du 14 juillet". Official Website of Elysée. 
  3. ^ "The Beginning of the French Revolution, 1789". EyeWitness to History. Thomas Jefferson was America's minister to France in 1789. As tensions grew and violence erupted, Jefferson traveled to Versailles and Paris to observe events first-hand. He reported his experience in a series of letters to America's Secretary of State, John Jay. We join Jefferson's story as tensions escalate to violence on July 12:
    July 12
    In the afternoon a body of about 100 German cavalry were advanced and drawn up in the Palace Louis XV. and about 300 Swiss posted at a little distance in their rear. This drew people to that spot, who naturally formed themselves in front of the troops, at first merely to look at them. But as their numbers increased their indignation arose: they retired a few steps, posted themselves on and behind large piles of loose stone collected in that Place for a bridge adjacent to it, and attacked the horse with stones. The horse charged, but the advantageous position of the people, and the showers of stones obliged them to retire, and even to quit the field altogether, leaving one of their number on the ground. The Swiss in their rear were observed never to stir. This was the signal for universal insurrection, and this body of cavalry, to avoid being massacred, retired towards Versailles.
    The people now armed themselves with such weapons as they could find in Armourer's shops and private houses, and with bludgeons, and were roaming all night through all parts of the city without any decided and practicable object.
    July 13
    [...]A Committee of magistrates and electors of the city are appointed, by their bodies, to take upon them its government.
    The mob, now openly joined by the French guards, force the prisons of St. Lazare, release all the prisoners, and take a great store of corn, which they carry to the corn market. Here they get some arms, and the French guards begin to form and train them. The City committee determines to raise 48,000 Bourgeois, or rather to restrain their numbers to 48,000.'
  4. ^ a b "Champs-Élysées city visit in Paris, France – Recommended city visit of Champs-Élysées in Paris". Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "Celebrate Bastille Day in Paris This Year". Paris Attractions. 3 May 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  6. ^ G A Chevallaz, Histoire générale de 1789 à nos jours, p22, publ. Payot, Lausanne 1974
  7. ^ J Isaac, L'époque révolutionnaire 1789-1851,p60, publ. Hachette, Paris 1950
  8. ^ J Isaac, L'époque révolutionnaire 1789-1851, p64, publ. Hachette, Paris 1950
  9. ^ Adamson, Natalie (15 August 2009). Painting, politics and the struggle for the École de Paris, 1944–1964. Ashgate. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-7546-5928-0. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  10. ^ Nord, Philip G. (2000). Impressionists and politics: art and democracy in the nineteenth century. Psychology Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-415-20695-2. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  11. ^ Nord, Philip G. (1995). The republican moment: struggles for democracy in nineteenth-century France. Harvard University Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-0-674-76271-8. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "Paris Au Jour Le Jour". Le Figaro. 16 July 1879. p. 4. Retrieved 15 January 2013. On a beaucoup banqueté avant-hier, en mémoire de la prise de la Bastille, et comme tout banquet suppose un ou plusieurs discours, on a aussi beaucoup parlé. 
  13. ^ Lüsebrink, Hans-Jürgen; Reichardt, Rolf (1997). The Bastille: a history of a symbol of despotism and freedom. Duke University Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-8223-1894-1. Retrieved 13 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Le Quatorze Juillet at the Greeting Card Universe Blog
  15. ^ Défilé du 14 juillet, des origines à nos jours (14 July Parade, from its origins to the present)
  16. ^ "Bastille Day 2007 – Budapest". 14 July 2011. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  17. ^ "Puducherry Culture". Government of Puducherry. Retrieved 14 July 2014. 
  18. ^ "Remuera Business Association – Bastille Day Street Festival". 
  19. ^ "Bastille Day Festival at Franschhoek". Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  20. ^ "Bastille Day London – Bastille Day Events in London, Bastille Day 2011". Archived from the original on 17 June 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  21. ^ Bastille Day Map. Interactive Map Bastille Day Locations in the U.S.
  22. ^ "Texan French Alliance for the Arts – 2011 Bastille Day". Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  23. ^ "Bastille Days | Milwaukee, WI". East Town Association. 12 July 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  24. ^ "2009 Bastille Day Celebration – Alliance Française, Minneapolis". Yelp. 11 July 2009. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  25. ^ "Bastille Day celebrations, 2011". Consulat Général de France à Chicago. 14 July 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2014. 
  26. ^ Martha Carr (13 July 2009). "Only in New Orleans: Watch locals celebrate Bastille Day in the French Quarter". The Times-Picayune. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  27. ^ "Bastille Day on 60th Street, New York City, Sunday, July 15, 2012 | 12–5pm | Fifth Avenue to Lexington Avenue". 10 July 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2011. 
  28. ^ Eastern State Penitentiary Website

External links[edit]