Bastille Day is the national holiday of France. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille Saint-Antoine prison in Paris on July 14, 1789. For years, the building housed many political prisoners arrested by direct order of the king. However, by the late 18th century the Bastille was almost empty, serving mostly as a symbol of the cruelty of the Bourbon monarchy. Then on July 14th, an angry mob flooded the Bastille, freeing seven prisoners. As a result, the day became a symbol of the fall of the monarchical ancien régime (old order) and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.
Today, Bastille Day celebrations include speeches, parties, and fireworks. Ever since 1880, the festivities have been kicked off by a large military parade passing down the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. The show has gone on almost every year—with the exception of the period of German occupation (1940-1944) during World War II and a cancellation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Bastille Day, most businesses outside tourist areas are closed in Paris so the public can revel in the streets, singing La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem. In the evening, the city hosts a free concert in the Champ de Mars at the base of the Eiffel Tower for everyone to enjoy.
Interested in learning more about Bastille Day? Check out the quiz below to test your knowledge of this French holiday!