French Tradition: Le Quatorze Juillet

The 14th of July (‘le quatorze juillet’) in France is the French National Day (Fête Nationale française) and is a French public holiday. It is a French tradition celebrating the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and a commemoration of the Fête de la Fédération, which was one year later in 1790, a celebration of the unified French nation and peace. In many places outside France the French National day is known as ‘Bastille Day’.

The Bastille was a tall fortress-prison, guarding the eastern approach to Paris and was seen as a symbolic representation of the absolutism of the monarchy. It was used to hold political prisoners, however at the time, there were only seven people inside and none of them were politically important.

Around 600 citizens of Paris gathered outside the Bastille on 14th July. They were demanding the surrender of the prison and they wanted access to the ammunition that was inside the Bastille. The Governor of the Bastille Bernard-René De Launay invited negotiators to come inside the fortress, however when they did not return quickly. The crowd, joined by some of the King’s soldiers, broke into the Bastille in search of ammunition and freeing the prisoners. The fortress was liberated at 5:30pm. De Launay surrendered, and his head was later paraded through the streets on a spike.

This event was significant as it represented the start of the French Revolution and eventually led to the fall of the French monarchy.

Nowadays, you can visit Place de la Bastille, which is where the Bastille prison stood until its complete destruction. There is a column that now stands in the centre of the square as a representation of liberty. Different cobblestones on the road mark the former outline of the fortress. The Bastille area is now popular at night with many bars, nightclubs, cafés and concert halls nearby.

Every year in the morning of 14th July in Paris, one of the oldest and largest military parades in Europe is held on the Champs Elysées to commemorate the Fête de la Fédération. Everywhere has a patriotic buzz, with people wearing the tricolore, and dancing in the streets. At nighttime, fireworks are set off over the Eiffel Tower, and crowds gather in Trocadero or on the Champ de Mars, where there will be a free concert. Look out for les bals des pompiers – street parties held by the fire brigade throughout Paris.