Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries to the national day of France, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In French, it is formally called la Fête nationale (French pronunciation: [la fɛt nasjɔnal]; "The National Celebration") and commonly and legally le 14 juillet (French pronunciation: [lə katɔʁz(ə) ʒɥijɛ]; "the 14th of July").
|Also called||French National Day|
The Fourteenth of July
|Significance||Commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, and the unity of the French people at the Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790|
|Celebrations||Military parades, fireworks, concerts, balls|
The French National Day is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution, 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 14 July on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests.
Jacques Necker, the Finance Minister, who was sympathetic to the Third Estate, was dismissed on 11 July 1789. 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, and 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. Preceding this on 14 July itself, was the siege of Hôtel des Invalides; Les Invalides, for firearms, muskets and canons, stored in its cellars, by rioting Parisians.
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 initial 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.
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 with an uppercase h meaning "human", while homme with a lowercase h means "man").
Fête de la Fédération
As early as 1789, the year of the storming of the Bastille, preliminary designs for a national festival were underway. These designs were intended to strengthen the country's national identity through the celebration of the events of 14 July 1789. One of the first designs was proposed by Clément Gonchon, a French textile worker, who presented his design for a festival celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille to the French city administration and the public on 9 December 1789. There were other proposals and unofficial celebrations of 14 July 1789, but the official festival sponsored by the National Assembly was called the Fête de la Fédération.
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 symbolise peace. The event took place on the Champ de Mars, which was located far outside of Paris at the time. The work needed to transform the Champ de Mars into a suitable location for the celebration was not on schedule to be completed in time. On the day recalled as the Journée des brouettes ("The Day of the Wheelbarrow"), thousands of Parisian citizens gathered together to finish the construction needed for the celebration.
The day of the festival, the National Guard assembled and proceeded along the boulevard du Temple in the pouring rain, and were met by an estimated 260,000 Parisian citizens at the Champ de Mars. 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 current celebration
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). 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, a military review at Longchamp, and a Republican Feast in the Pré Catelan. All through France, Le Figaro wrote, "people feasted much to honour the storming of the Bastille".
In 1880, the government of the Third Republic wanted to revive the 14 July festival. The campaign for the reinstatement of the festival had been underway for nearly a decade, sponsored by the notable politician Léon Gambetta and scholar Henri Baudrillant. On 21 May 1880, Benjamin Raspail proposed a law, signed by sixty-four members of government, to have "the Republic adopt 14 July as the day of an annual national festival". There were many disputes over which date to be remembered as the national holiday, including 4 August (the commemoration of the end of the feudal system), 5 May (when the Estates-General first assembled), 27 July (the fall of Robespierre), and 21 January (the date of Louis XVI's execution). The government decided that the date of the holiday would be 14 July, but it was still somewhat problematic. The events of 14 July 1789 were illegal under the previous government, which contradicted the Third Republic's need to establish legal legitimacy. French politicians also did not want the sole foundation of their national holiday to be rooted in a day of bloodshed and class-hatred as the day of storming the Bastille was. Instead, they based the establishment of the holiday as a dual celebration of the Fête de la Fédération, a festival celebrating the one year anniversary of 14 July 1789, and the storming of the Bastille. The Assembly voted in favor of the proposal on 21 May and 8 June, and the law was approved on 27 and 29 June. The law was made official on 6 July 1880.
In the debate leading up to the adoption of the holiday, Senator Henri Martin, who wrote the National Day law, addressed the 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, 1880
Bastille Day military parade
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). 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. In some years, invited detachments of foreign troops take part in the parade and foreign statesmen attend as guests
Bastille Day celebrations in other countries
Liège celebrates the Bastille Day each year since the end of the First World War, as Liège was decorated by the Légion d'Honneur for its unexpected resistance during the Battle of Liège. The city also hosts a fireworks show outside of Congress Hall. Specifically in Liège, celebrations of Bastille Day have been known to be bigger than the celebrations of the Belgian National holiday. Around 35,000 people gather to celebrate Bastille Day. There is a traditional festival dance of the French consul that draws large crowds, and many unofficial events over the city celebrate the relationship between France and the city of Liège.
Vancouver, British Columbia, holds a celebration featuring exhibits, food and entertainment. The Toronto Bastille Day festival is also celebrated in Toronto, Ontario. The festival is organized by the French community in Toronto and sponsored by the Consulate General of France. The celebration includes music, performances, sport competitions, and a French Market. At the end of the festival, there is also a traditional French bal populaire.
Since 2008, Prague has hosted a French market "Le marché du 14 juillet" ("Fourteenth of July Market") offering traditional French food and wine as well as music. The market takes place on Kampa Island, it is usually between 11 and 14 July. It acts as an event that marks the relinquish of the EU presidency from France to the Czech Republic. Traditional selections of French produce, including cheese, wine, meat, bread and pastries, are provided by the market. Throughout the event, live music is played in the evenings, with lanterns lighting up the square at night.
Budapest's two-day celebration is sponsored by the Institut de France. The festival is hosted along the Danube River, with streets filled with music and dancing. There are also local markets dedicated to French foods and wine, mixed with some traditional Hungarian specialties. At the end of the celebration, a fireworks show is held on the river banks.
Bastille Day is celebrated with great festivity in Pondicherry, a former French colony, every year. 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.
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. Events in Dublin include live entertainment, speciality menus on French cuisine, and screenings of popular French films.
The Auckland suburb of Remuera hosts an annual French-themed Bastille Day street festival. Visitors enjoy mimes, dancers, music, as well as French foods and drinks. The budding relationship between the two countries, with the establishment of a Maori garden in France and exchange of their analyses of cave art, resulted in the creation of an official reception at the Residence of France. There is also an event in Wellington for the French community held at the Residence of France.
Franschhoek's weekend festival has been celebrated since 1993. (Franschhoek, or 'French Corner,' is situated in the Western Cape.) As South Africa's gourmet capital, French food, wine and other entertainment is provided throughout the festival. The French Consulate in South Africa also celebrates their national holiday with a party for the French community. Activities also include dressing up in different items of French clothing.
Following colonial rule, France annexed a large portion of what is now French Polynesia. Under French rule, Tahitians were permitted to participate in sport, singing, and dancing competitions one day a year: Bastille Day. The single day of celebration evolved into the major Heiva i Tahiti festival in Papeete Tahiti, where traditional events such as canoe races, tattooing, and fire walks are held. The singing and dancing competitions continued, with music composed with traditional instruments such as a nasal flute and ukulele.
Within England, London has a large French contingent, and celebrates Bastille Day at various locations across the city including Battersea Park, Camden Town and Kentish Town. Live entertainment is performed at Canary Wharf, with weeklong performances of French theatre at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town. Restaurants feature cabarets and special menus across the city, and other celebrations include garden parties and sports tournaments. There is also a large event at the Bankside and Borough Market, where there is live music, street performers, and traditional French games are played.
The United States has over 20 cities that conduct annual celebrations of Bastille Day. The different cities celebrate with many French staples such as food, music, games, and sometimes the recreation of famous French landmarks.
- Northeastern States
Baltimore, Maryland 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. New York City, New York 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, Bastille Day on Smith Street in Brooklyn, and Bastille Day in Tribeca. There is also the annual Bastille Day Ball, taking place since 1924. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania'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.
- Southern States
In Dallas, Texas the 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. Miami, Florida's celebration is organized by "French & Famous" in partnership with the French American Chamber of Commerce, the Union des Français de l'Etranger and many French brands. The event gathers over 1,000 attendees to celebrate "La Fête Nationale". The location and theme change every year. In 2017, the theme was "Guinguette Party" and attracted 1,200 francophiles at The River Yacht Club. New Orleans, Louisiana has multiple celebrations, the largest in the historic French Quarter. St. Louis, Missouri has annual festivals in the Soulard neighborhood, the former French village of Carondelet, Missouri, and in the Benton Park neighborhood. The Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion in the Benton Park neighborhood, holds an annual Bastille Day festival with reenactments of the beheading of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, traditional dancing, and artillery demonstrations. Carondelet also began hosting an annual saloon crawl to celebrate Bastille Day in 2017. In Washington D.C., food, music, and auction events are sponsored by the Embassy of France. There is also a French Festival within the city, where families can meet period entertainment groups set during the time of the French Revolution. Restaurants host parties serving traditional French food.
- Mid-Western States
Chicago, Illinois 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. Milwaukee, Wisconsin's four-day street festival begins with a "Storming of the Bastille" with a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower. Minneapolis, Minnesota has a celebration 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." Montgomery, Ohio has a celebration with wine, beer, local restaurants' fare, pastries, games and bands.
- Western States
Portland, Oregon has celebrated Bastille Day with crowds up to 8,000, in public festivals at various public parks, since 2001. The event is coordinated by the Alliance Française of Portland. Seattle, Washington's Bastille Day celebration, held at the Seattle Center, involves performances, picnics, wine and shopping. Sacramento, California conducts annual "waiter races" in the midtown restaurant and shopping district, with a street festival.
- 1979: A concert with Jean Michel Jarre on the Place de la Concorde in Paris was the first concert to have one million attendees.
- 1989: France celebrated the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, notably with a monumental show on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, directed by French designer Jean-Paul Goude. President François Mitterrand acted as host for invited world leaders.
- 1990: A concert with Jarre was held at La Défense near Paris.
- 1994: The military parade was opened by Eurocorps, a newly created European army unit including German soldiers. This was the first time German troops paraded in France since 1944, as a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation.
- 1995: A concert with Jarre was held at the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
- 1998: Two days after the French football team became World Cup champions, huge celebrations took place nationwide.
- 2004: To commemorate the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, the British led the military parade with the Red Arrows flying overhead.
- 2007: To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the military parade was led by troops from the 26 other EU member states, all marching at the French time.
- 2014: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning to the First World War, representatives of 80 countries who fought during this conflict were invited to the ceremony. The military parade was opened by 76 flags representing each of these countries.
- 2017: To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States of America's entry into the First World War, French President Emmanuel Macron invited American President Donald Trump to celebrate a centuries-long transatlantic tie between the two countries.
Incidents during Bastille Day
- In 2002, Maxime Brunerie attempted to shoot French President Jacques Chirac during the Champs-Élysées parade.
- In 2009, Paris youths set fire to more than 300 cars on Bastille Day.
- In 2016, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck into crowds during celebrations in the city of Nice. 86 people were killed and 434 injured along the Promenade des Anglais.
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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 public dances in towns throughout the whole of France.
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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:
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.
...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.'
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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.
- Prendergast, Christopher (2008). The Fourteenth of July. Profile Books Ltd. p. 127. ISBN 9781861979391.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bastille Day.|
- 14 July – Official French website (in English)