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.
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