Bastille Day

Jen­nie Sharpe looks back at the very first “Bastille Day” and tells you how you can celebrate this spe­cial day, whether you’re in France or Aus­tralia.

Provincial Living - - Contents -

Jen­nie Sharpe tells us how to celebrate the French Na­tional Day - La Fête Na­tionale.

In1369, the mayor of Paris be­gan build­ing a new fortress. It had the usual moat and bat­tle­ments, and over the next four cen­turies, it would im­prison some fa­mous men, in­clud­ing Voltaire and the Mar­quis de Sade. But this prison would not be­come truly fa­mous un­til day one of its de­struc­tion – 14th July, 1789, known as “Bastille Day”.

It’s a day cel­e­brated the world over – by Ed­in­burghi­ans in mem­ory of the “Auld Al­liance” be­tween Scot­land and France; by In­di­ans, South Africans and Amer­i­cans in old French colonies; and by Fran­cophiles from Aus­trala­sia to Europe.

The 14th July marks the be­gin­ning of the Revo­lu­tion, when en­raged Parisians mo­bilised to at­tack the royal fortress of Bastille. In a burst of some­what mis­guided hero­ism, they freed the mere seven pris­on­ers cur­rently held there in semi-lux­ury – a hand­ful of forg­ers, a would-be mur­derer’s ac­com­plice, and an in­ces­tu­ous count (whose own fam­ily had sent him to prison). For, although the Bastille ap­peared to be a sym­bol of tyranny, it was ac­tu­ally a very com­fort­able prison with few in­mates.

De­spite the seem­ingly point­less act of storm­ing the fortress, the mob got its point across. When the Duque de Lian­court in­formed Louis XVI that the Bastille had fallen, the King is said to have asked, “Is it a re­volt?” To which the Duque replied, “No sire, it is a revo­lu­tion.”

Over two hun­dred years on, Bastille Day is still a cause for wild cel­e­bra­tions across the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly in Paris. If you’re lucky enough to be in the French cap­i­tal for “Qu­a­torze Juil­let”, there are a few events you mustn’t miss.

Firstly, you can be­gin your cel­e­bra­tions on the eve of Bastille Day at one of the many “Fire­men’s balls” held at fire sta­tions through­out Paris. Each ar­rondisse­ment’s fire sta­tion flings open its doors on ei­ther the 13th or 14th July and plays host to the city’s par­ty­go­ers. Live bands and cheap drinks en­sure a fab­u­lous party all night long.

Then, if you’re not nurs­ing a hang­over on Bastille Day morn­ing, be sure to make your way to the Champs-Élysées for the spec­tac­u­lar mil­i­tary pa­rade. There are air force jets trail­ing red, white and blue smoke, mounted cav­alry reg­i­ments in tra­di­tional uni­forms, dec­o­rated sol­diers and march­ing bands.

…the King is said to have asked, “Is it a re­volt?” To which the Duque replied, “No sire, it is a revo­lu­tion.”

Af­ter the pa­rade, kill time be­fore the fire­works in the evening by tak­ing ad­van­tage of one of the free events, in­clud­ing en­try to the Lou­vre or a mat­inée per­for­mance at the Palais Garnier opera house.

Later in the af­ter­noon, you can en­joy the free or­ches­tral con­cert

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