There is a very special day in July where there the French commemorate a very important turning point in their history. Here in this post I want to share with you some very interesting Bastille Day facts. So if you want to learn more about this day then please read on.
The first fact that I want to share with you is that it is not even called Bastille Day in French. This is the term that the English speaking world refer to it by. For the French it is simply known as la Fete nationale, or rather The National Celebration.
This French holiday occurs annually on July 14th. A military parade, which is both the oldest and largest in Europe, takes place during the morning.
Bastille Day is celebrated all over the world. French speaking countries such as Belgium and Canada celebrate this special day as well. Celebrations even occur in the United Kingdom and several states in America.
I will try to cover the history of Bastille Day as succinctly as possible. If you wish to read a more detailed account of this day then please check out Wikipedia.
Bastille Day (French National Day) – July 14th
Storming the Bastille
Bastille Day marks the beginning of the French Revolution. July 14th was the date in 1789 when French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, (fortress and prison), in Paris. As a result of the Storming of the Bastille both King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the rulers of France at the time, fled the stronghold and hid at the palace of Versailles.
Bastide is the French word for Bastille which means stronghold. The Bastille had been built four centuries in about 1370. It was built to help defend Paris in the 100 Years War against England. Later in 1417 it would become a prison.
The beginning of The French Revolution
Political prisoners were released due to the revolutionaries storming the Bastille. You may be surprised to learn that there were only 7 prisoners in the building at the time of the revolution. The prisoners included an aristocrat, two lunatics and 4 forgers.
The Bastille was only able to hold 50 prisoners!
Not only did the revolutionaries release prisoners but they also stole weapons as well. These weapons would be used against the monarchy in their fight.
Three years after the start of the revolution the French Republic was formed in 1792. Between 1789 and 1792 this period in France’s history was referred to as The Reign of Terror. Many aristocratic people were executed during this time.
My 5th great grandfather John Watters in my family stories is said to have fled France during this revolution. He escaped to South Wales in the United Kingdom along with his two brothers. Unfortunately their parents were unable to escape and were executed.
Bastille Day Celebrations
The French first celebrated the Fete de la Federation one year on from the Storming of the Bastille. This was a “celebration of the unity of the French nation during the French Revolution“. This event took place far away from Paris though at a place called Champ de Mars.
Celebrations first occurred in Paris to honor the Republic of France on June 30th in 1878. This date was changed to July 14th the following year in 1879 to mark the date of the Storming. This day then became a national holiday in 1880.
This date is significant as it marks the end of the royal monarchy and for the beginning of France’s modern republic.
Benjamin Raspail who was a French politician proposed that July 14th should become a national holiday. And so this law was enacted on July 6th in 1880.
Ever since 1880 there has been a military parade in Parade, except however during the Second World War. Despite this the Free French Forces did parade in London from 1940 through to 1944 to mark this day in France’s history.
What to expect on Bastille Day?
Because Bastille Day is a public holiday all banks and post offices will be closed. Many businesses, such as restaurants and cafes ,will also observe this holiday and not be open. Within Paris though you may find some bakeries and shops open.
This is also true for stores at airports and railway stations and along major highways in France.
As there will be a military parade on the Champs Elysees there will be some road closures. This parade will start at the Champs Elysees and end at Arc de Triomphe. This destination is chosen as it is a large monument that honors those who died while fighting during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
Service men and women will take part in the Bastille Day Military Parade on the morning of July 14th. There will be many French flags seen during this event. Attending the parade will be cadets from military schools as well as the French Navy and the French Foreign Legion. Military aircraft will spectacularly fly over the parade.
The parade is opened by the French president and will inspect the troops and meet the public attending this event. He will also give a speech at the end of the parade. Many other French officials will attend this parade as well as foreign guests.
Road closures can also happen in villages, towns and cities around France. There will be Mayoral speeches at other locations and a wreath will be laid as well.
What activities can you expect:
- Military and even civilian parades,
- Musical performances,
- Communal meals,
- Dances and meals, and
- Firework displays
If you are in France during this holiday then I suggest that you visit the Lourve. To commemorate this day they offer free admission. So why not take in some culture and see many fine paintings in this wonderful gallery.
Bastille Day around the world!
This date is also very special for French speaking countries such as Belgium and Canada. You maybe surprised to learn that Bastille Day is even celebrated in America Bastille Day.
Cities in the United States such as Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle will put on festivals.
Festivals also occur in these countries:
- Czech Republic, in Prague
- England, in London
- Hungary, in Budapest
- India, in Pondicherry
- Ireland, in Dublin, Cork and Limerick
- New Zealand, in Auckland
- South Africa, in the town of Franschhoek.
My Final Thoughts on Bastille Day
You maybe wondering why I have discussed a day that is so special to the French on a genealogy website. Well it is simple. One reason is that I love history and learning the origin of days such as this. The other reason is because our ancestors would have celebrated these special days.
Celebrations have probably changed over the years, they didn’t have airshows back in those days ;-). But they would have celebrated them nonetheless.
I like to try to feel close to my ancestors. And I can do this by learning the history behind important days such as Bastille Day.
I am not French but as I have said in this post I do have ancestors who were said to have escaped the French Revolution. So in a way this day is special to me and my family.
So if you do have French heritage then why not learn about your ancestors. I have discovered so much about my own ancestry and the fun part of it is that you just don’t know what you will find out when you begin your research.
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