Bastille Day

On July 14

July 14 is the national day of France or, as English-people would call it, Bastille Day, marking a great turning point in the French Revolution of the 18th Century which ultimately lead to the unity of the French people. 

Since that day, July 14 is a day of celebration in France, marked by several events held all throughout the country, but none as grand as the military parade marching along the Champs-Elysees in Paris in front of the President of the country and other prominent state officials.

What This Day Represents

In the 18th century, France was lead by King Louis XVI and was facing one of the worst economic crises of its time. It was in part due to its involvement in the American Revolution in combination with a draining taxing system.

There had been tension building between the first estate (royalty,) second estate (nobility,) and third estate (commoners) in France for a while, and soon the third estate founded the National Assembly and pushed for the creation of the French constitution. Though things at first seemed to be going as the National Assembly planned, the dismissal of Jacques Necker, the finance minister who was supportive of the third estate’s views and values, quickly changed the pace and sparked an outcry among people. 

News of Necker’s firing reached Paris on July 12, which lead the Parisians to think it was the sign of a coup from the conservative, who greatly opposed the new changes to French society. Armed conflict quickly ensued, and on the morning of July 14, 1789, the third estate had reached the Hotel des Invalides. Their plan was to gather weapons and move on to the Bastille to store them.

At this time, the Bastille was only housing seven prisoners and was not all that difficult to storm. However, it was seen by many as a symbol of tyranny of the monarchy. The fortress has a limited purpose but needed a great deal of resources to run, so it was considered by the revolutionaries as an immense achievement when it fell. 

After this day, the 14 of July became a day of great celebration for the French people. From 1798 until today, these festivities are meant to celebrate France’s unity and its national identity, while also giving tribute to the revolutionaries that freed the country from the monarchy’s reign.

How This Day Unfolds

The most important part of Bastille Day is undoubtedly the military parade which has been held in Paris each year on the morning of 14 July since 1880. The fanfare marches down the Champ-Elysee from the Arc de Triomphe, and right towards the Palace de la Concorde where the president of the republic and his guests (generally meaning his administration, foreign ambassadors, and other prominent figures) stand. 

The event itself is broadcast live on television and is one of the oldest military parades in the entire world. Other, smaller, military parades also take place on this day in Toulon or Marseille, for instance. 

Other events such as concerts or plays also take place around this time, but a common tradition is to go for a picnic in a public park, waiting for the traditional fireworks show from Place de la Concorde to close off the night right.

Additionally, Bastille Day is also celebrated in many other countries around the world:

  • Belgium – In Liege, who started celebrating on 14 July right after the end of the First World War;
  • Canada – organized by the local French community.

Many other former colony countries or areas with high French populations also organize certain events around this day. Local French Institutes often put together several educational and entertaining events around this time as well.

Related Events on This Date

  • In 1795, The French National Convention makes “La Marseillaise” by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle France’s national anthem. The song’s name comes from the Marseille volunteers who marched to Paris while singing this tune. It’s considered one of the first examples of the European march style of songs and has been used in many pieces of classical and popular music through the years.  
  • In 1964, 14 of July was cause for a double celebration. Jacques Anquetil won the 51st Tour de France for the fifth time. He is the first cyclist to ever win this many times.

Famous Birthdays

1868: Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell was an English writer, political officer, and archaeologist, most famous for her role in establishing and administering the modern state of Iraq. As a frequent traveler, Gertrude would routinely visit Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, or Arabia and keep a detailed journal of her adventures. Through her attained knowledge, she managed to improve the relationship between British officials and representatives of the new state of Iraq.

1913: Gerald Ford

President Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford was the 38th president of the United States of America, serving in the Oval Office from August 1974 to 1977. He is the only U.S. president to serve as both vice president and president to the U.S. without being elected by the Electoral College. In 1973, Ford was the first person appointed by Nixon as vice-president. After the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, Ford assumed the presidency and pardoned Nixon. He continued to serve only for 895 days, having the shortest one in U.S. history for any president who did not die in office.

1918: Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman is, to this day, one of the most prominent names in the film industry. The Swedish director and writer worked on over sixty movies and documentaries. His movies generally dealt with character’s existential subjects such as morality or religion. His most famous films include Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, and Persona

If you want to learn more about the Falling of the Bastille and what this day truly means for the French society, you should check out this great article.

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