Each year, French people all around the world celebrate la Fête nationale on July 14, which they often call le quatorze juillet. This French national holiday commemorates a turning point in the French Revolution, the storming of the Bastille, and celebrates la Fête de la Fédération (Festival of the Federation). Read on to learn about this important French holiday, its origins and traditions, and a few fun facts!

La Prise de la Bastille

Bastille Day, as it’s known in English-speaking countries, marks the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille (la Prise de la Bastille) on July 14, 1789. The Bastille was a towering stone fortress created to protect the eastern entrance to Paris during the Hundreds’ Year War against the English. In fact, the name “Bastille” comes from the word bastide/bastida which means “fortification” in Middle French/Old Provençal.

The Bastille was also an arsenal and prison that came to represent royal tyranny. It held political dissidents like Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade, and the mysterious, but real, Man in the Iron Mask - often without trial.

Two days after the French Revolution began, a mob of angry revolutionists broke into the fortress in search of weapons and gunpowder. Although only seven prisoners were present and freed, the event had a significant impact. It signaled that the monarchy was vulnerable and marked the beginning of la République française and subsequent downfall of the royal regime.

Time to Party!

A year after the storming of the Bastille, the fortress had been destroyed, France was operating under a constitutional monarchy, and hereditary nobility was outlawed. To celebrate these advancements, the new regime organized a nationwide expression of unity called the "Festival of the Federation" in 1790. However, Bastille Day did not become an official national holiday until 1880.

Like the Fourth of July in America, Bastille Day is a public holiday in France that is celebrated across the nation with parties, parades, fireworks, French flags, and the singing of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. France also celebrates Bastille Day with one of the world’s oldest annual military parades. French troops have marched along the Champs-Elysées each year since 1880. More than 4,200 soldiers, 200 vehicles, and 100 aircraft participate in this public display.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité !

Wishing you could partake in the festivities? You can! For more than 40 years, the French Library has celebrated Bastille Day with music, food, and fun for everyone. In the true spirit of la Fête de la Fédération, our Bastille Day celebration is a great way to come together to celebrate France, its language and culture, and the French Republic’s motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité.




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