When the people of late 1700s France got fed up with the way the king was ruling the land, they took action.
One of the events of this time is still celebrated today and is known around the world as Bastille Day, or July 14th.
Let’s explore this important date in French history.
But first, a little backstory.
Way back in the 1300s, France was worried about being attacked by the English.
So, the leaders of the day built a stronghold in Paris known in French as a “bastille”. In the beginning, it only had two tall towers.
As time passed, even more towers were added until there were eight total. Instead of getting a fancy name, folks continued to call it the stronghold or simply the Bastille.
Fast forward four hundred years and the Bastille had become a symbol of tyranny, and the people of France were ready to do something about it.
In 1789 during the first days of the French Revolution, the people were getting restless and began making demands on King Louis XVI.
In May of that same year, representatives from the nobles, the clergy, and the craftsmen and common people met to discuss these demands. These were known as the First, Second, and Third Estates.
Things fell apart fast after that. The king wasn’t doing what the people wanted, and the members of the Third Estate were ready to do something about it. There were riots in the streets in the days leading up to July 14th.
The people gathered muskets and cannons but found there was no gunpowder or ammunition. Then someone pointed out there was a huge store of these things in the Bastille.
What followed was the storming of the Bastille. The revolutionaries took over the fortress, and freed the remaining prisoners. Many people were hurt on both sides.
But the common folk took control of the stronghold, and that became a symbol of the people overcoming a bad king! The French Revolution was underway.
A year later, in 1790, to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, France celebrated as a nation. But it wasn’t until 1880 that the national holiday, or La Fete Nationale, was made official.
Interestingly, the French don’t call it Bastille Day. They call it the 14th of July (i.e. 14 Juillet or le Quatorze Juillet), much like the United States calls its Independence Day July 4th.
Today, Bastille Day is celebrated with red, white, and blue flags and banners, fireworks, and a large parade in the morning that is the oldest military parade in the world. The parade travels down the street called Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde.
When the parade is over, the French president gives a speech. Then, just like the US, France celebrates with fireworks all around the country and the people sing the national anthem called La Marseilles.
Of course, people commemorate Bastille Day worldwide. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has a huge festival that lasts 4 days. They have a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower!
Other celebrations take place in London in the United Kingdom, Pondicherry in India, Franschhoek in South Africa, Tahiti, and over 50 cities in the United States including New Orleans, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.
Many of these places outside France have close ties to France or were ruled by France at some time in history.
It wouldn’t be a celebration without food. Some of the most popular French foods featured on Bastille Day include pastries, croissants, brioche, strawberries, pâté, quiche, champagne, escargot, and fresh baguettes.
You can enjoy the taste of France on Bastille Day or any other day when you try the recipes in our French box from eat2explore!