How quickly the year is passing! Another July 14th is just around the corner. You may know it as Bastille Day, but here in France, it’s called “La Fête Nationale” or “le quatorze juillet.”
What’s it all about? Simply put, it’s the date that marks the start of la Révolution française (the French Revolution) and represents the day on which France won her independence from the unchecked and absolute power of the monarchy.
A Quick History Lesson
In the 1700s, France was divided into three social classes, known as “États” (estates): the first estate was le clergé (the clergy); the second estate was la noblesse (the nobility), and the Third Estate was everybody else. While the third estate did consist partially of the bourgeoisie (middle class), its largest component was the poorest of society, known sometimes as sans-culottes (without britches).
Although the first two estates made up about 3% of the entire population, they were disproportionally wealthy, privileged and powerful, and subjected the vulnerable people of the Tiers État (Third Estate) to harsh and arbitrary laws.
By 1789, the country was mired in a severe crise économique (economic crisis) and many among Third Estate were fighting starvation, while the other two estates thrived. Ras-le-bol (fed up), the leaders of the Tiers État created a new assembly to write a constitution, very much against the wishes of King Louis XVI.
On 14 juillet 1789, a mob in Paris, spurred by rumors that Louis XVI planned to use force to destabilize the new assembly, stormed the immense stone prison la Bastille, killing numerous guards and releasing the seven prisonniers politiques (political prisoners) it held. The storming of Bastille gave heart to the masses as the Bastille was viewed as the ultimate symbol of the monarchy’s absolute power. That very night hundreds of people began to tear down the Bastille, stone by stone.
Just over a month later, on 26 août 1789, the new assembly voted for the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens), a constitution that set out the individual and collective rights of all French people, regardless of social class.
And so la République française was born.
Celebrating 14 juillet in Paris
Le quatorze juillet has been a jour férié (national holiday) since 1790. And in Paris it brings quite the doozy of a celebration.
In the morning, an enormous défilé militaire (military parade) struts down the Champs-Elysées to salute le Président de la République (President of the Republic) and other high-ranking French politicians who greet the procession at the Place de la Concorde. Low-flying military jets roar overhead in a spectacular flyby, the tri-colors of the le drapeau français (the French flag) trailing behind them in clouds of smoke. Of course, everyone sings l’hymne national (the national anthem), la Marseillaise.
When night falls, thousands of people swarm toward the beautifully-lit Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) to watch the feu d’artifice (fireworks), which burst into life just behind the legendary tower. Those not at the Eiffel Tower might be dancing the night away at the exhilarating bal des pompiers (Firemen’s Ball). These balls – hardly formal events – take place in firehouses all over Paris and are open to the public, usually with just a suggested donation.
Sounds good, non? Come to Paris and celebrate with us! Bonne fête!
Will you be in Paris for le 14 juillet? How will you celebrate? Share with us (in French, if you like) below!