Bastille day is to France what Independence day is to the United States of America. A nationwide commemoration behind what is arguably a key event if not THE key event in the history of both countries. Sextant Properties do not manage properties in North America yet so we will focus on France only this time. Yet we would like to recognize the fact that the US revolution played a great part in the democratization of the Western world as we know it today.
Fact number 1: French people don’t really call it Bastille day
Bastille day in French is called “14 Juillet” which is the date of the national day. Actually, there is hardly any commemoration about the historical event which gave its name i.e. the storming of the Bastille. There are numerous parades all around the country, the main one in Paris is a military one and takes place on the avenue of Champs-Elysées. To most people, it is a time to celebrate with friends and family as this is a bank holiday. This usually ends with a fireworks as soon as the night sets in, either on the 14th or the day before. Villages like to compete against each other when it comes to their fireworks display on Bastille day!
Fact number 2: But what was the Bastille anyway?
The Bastille was a fortress built in the 14th century primarily to protect Paris from English invasion. Its proper name was Bastille Saint Antoine as the aim was to protect the Porte Sainte Antoine in the east of Paris – that was a gate to the Château de Vincennes as well, the main royal dwelling at the time.
Fact number 3: Why was it rocked down then?
Under the reign of Louis XVI the fortress had completely turned into a jail, it had been a temporary one in the past as well as an arsenal. In 1789, it was seen as a jail where opponents to the king’s regime would be thrown into without any trial. Even though there were only 7 inmates at the time of the storming, the angry and hungry people of Paris picked it as a target as it was a symbol of the arbitrary monarchy by the infamous king. The truth is that they were disappointed with the prisoners they found there.
Fact number 4: Talking of prisoners, any famous people I should know about?
Each century saw its load of famous prisoners. Donatien Alphonse François de Sade also known as Marquis de Sade was one of them. He spent 11 years in jail in Paris; out of which 10 were in the Bastille. In the previous century, Eustache Dauger was another one; he is more known as the Man with the Iron Mask. Possibly an older illegitimate brother of Louis XIV as reported by Voltaire.
Fact number 5: How long did it take to dismantle?
It took 13 years to build the Bastille fortress and 17 to demolish fully so that it could set place for a large square, nowadays Place de la Bastille, a popular hang-out for parisians; also cornerstone of the more recent opera house in Paris, Opéra Bastille (the other opera house being Opéra Garnier in the historic part of the French capital).
Fact number 6: Is there anything left at all from the jail?
In 1899, as works started to build one of the busiest subway lines in the world, the Métropolitain line 1, remnants of the fortress were unearthed. The historical stones were displaced and can now be seen at Henri-Galli square. You will have to take Métro line 7 and get off at Sully station to visit what remains of the fortress, it is the foundation of one of the towers, tower of freedom – tour de la liberté in French.
Fact number 7: What happened to the presidential Garden Party?
French presidents used to hold a lavish party in the gardens of the Palais de l’Elysée, the presidential palace in Paris. It was actually François Mitterand who gave it the English name of “Garden party” – because of the spiraling costs behind the festivities and increasing criticisms, Nicolas Sarkozy put an end to it in 2010.
We hope you learnt a few things about this popular day in France. If you happen to be in Paris this week or next for the festivities or the Tour de France, feel free to contact us too if you’d like to review any of the Sextant properties in the French capital and around.