Bastille Day,14th of July: French Independence Day

Map of France

Map of Country

Figure 1: Map of France atoz/geo_fra.asp



On July 14th, 1789 French citizens united together and decided that they would no longer live under the oppressive rule of King Louis XVI.  They stormed the Bastille, a French prison, and overthrew the monarchy.  This resulted in the French Revolution, which was won by the citizens and the vistory is celebrated each year in Paris.  It is celebrated with a display of French flags throughout the streets, a military parade, and ends with a brilliant firework display illuminating the Eiffel Tower, which brings the citizens together to celebrate their nation.  During the celebration, a sense of communitas is present which is important in the unification of French citizens and less focus on the individuals. 



Additional Image 1  

Figure 2: Eiffel Tower on the night of July 14th 2003, Bastille Day.

Figure 3: Part of the parade marching down the Champs d'Elysee, one of the main roads in Paris, during the celebration of Bastille Day.


Bastille Day is July 14th 1789.  This day represents the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, which began the French Revolution.  The French people overthrew the monarchy and placed the power of the government into their hands.  Every year on July 14th there is an enormous celebration in the city of Paris to remember this event and the beginning of the road to a new government in France.  The French are proud of their country and this national holiday is a time for them to display "le Tricolore", the three colored French flag.  This pride causes a sense of unity among French citizens because they gather in Paris and other cities to celebrate the fall of the monarchy and the rise of the new republic.  By remembering the events of this day and those who fought for their freedom from monarchal oppression, they unite in celebration.  A strong sense of nationalism among the French citizens emerges through the celebration.  Parades down the Champs Elysées and fireworks are a popular way of celebrating.  The peasants of France revolted and chose to change the structure of the government in 1789, and this act is the reason that the Bastille Day celebration is so popular and such an important celebration of French nationalism and solidarity among the citizens.


Context of France

 France is a country in Europe.  It is comprised of twenty-two administrative regions that were created during the beginning of the nineteenth century.  The English Channel, Atlantic Ocean, Spain, the Mediterranean Sea, and central Europe suround France.  This country is located in the southern half of the temperate zone, yet some parts of it are included in other zones to the north and south.  (Pinchemel 1987).  Without the Atlantic Ocean, the warm water would not influence the temperature, and the Mediterranean Sea creates humitidy in the South, which provides rain and prevents desert like conditions.  The climate is divided into three subdivisions, the maritime, continental, and the Mediterranean.  This is because the ocean, central Europe, and the sea affect it.  (Evans 1966).

 Some of France's physical characteristics make up natural boundaries between other countries.  In France, there are multiple mountain ranges.  The Jura Mountains are on the east and the Pyrenees, which are in the south, divide France from Spain.  There are many major rivers that run through this country.  The Seine is a well known river which runs through Paris, in northern France.  The Rhine River is found in the northeast and helps to divide France from central Europe.  The Rhône River is located in the southeast.

 France has had a long and eventful history.  Since 58 B.C.E. it has experienced many events, including the Crusades in the 11th and 13th centuries, the Black Death in 1397, the Hundred Year's war during the 14th and 15th centuries, and the life of Joan of Arc.  Along with that there was the Reformation in the 16th century, the reigns of Louis XII through XVI, the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, and on July 14th 1789, the storming of the Bastille, which resulted in the formation of the nation's Independence Day.  This event was a turning point in the structure of the government of France, because until then, the king's power was absolute. When the people of France stormed the Bastille, a prison, they showed the king that they would no longer accept his control.  This marked the beginning of the French Revolution, in which the people attempted to place the power of the people back in their hands.  After that war, France survived through the end of the monarchy, also the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the creation of a Parliament.  ( 2002)  


Origins of Bastille Day

The French national holiday of independence is called Bastille Day, and it is celebrated on July 14th.  This day commemorates an event that took place during the beginning of the French Revolution, July 14th 1789.  On this day the citizens of France decided that kings and queens would no longer oppress them.  The Bastille, a prison, was a symbol of the French monarchy and the citizen's revolt and storming of the Bastille represented the freedom and strength of the people against the rule of the monarchs.  A year after this event, people from all over France gathered in Paris to celebrate and show their pride and loyality to their nation.  This was the first display of national unity of France that began a 215 year long tradition of the celebration of Bastille Day.  Each year French citizens come together in Paris to celebrate the destruction of the monarchy and the birth of a new republic, which created a renewed sense of nationalism.  This celebration bonds the French together regardless of where they now live and they join to celebrate a common event in history that has changed the French government forever.



 Military parades on the Champs Elysées are part of the observable elements of Bastille Day.  People gather along the sides of the street and watch the marchers.  All throughout Paris there can be seen the French flag. It is called the Tricolore flag, and is made up of blue, white, and red.  The three colors represent the three ideals of the Republic: Liberty, Equality, and the Fraternity for all citizens of France.  This is a very important artifact for the French, so it is proudly displayed and waved on this day.

 In the evening, after the military parade is finished and it has gotten dark enough, there is a brillant firework display.  One can see firework displays all throughout France, but the largest show is found in the heart of France, Paris.  As pictured in figure 2, the Eiffel Tower is a centerpiece for the display of fireworks.  It is lit up and the fireworks make is stand out against the darkness of the night sky.  The Eiffel Tower is a famous piece of architecture in French culture and in 1889, one hundred years after the storming of the Bastille this monument was built to commemorate the French Revolution.  The Eiffel Tower is yet another element of the celebration, which helps people remember the past.  The usage of fireworks is similar to the celebration of the United States Independence Day, July 4th.  In just about every city in the United States one can find a firework display on the fourth of July, although they are not usually as extensive as the celebration in Paris.  People dancing all night in the streets of Paris follow the firework display.



This is a picture of the French flag, "le Tricolore", who's three colors represent the ideals of the republic: Liberty, Equality, and the Fraternity for all French citizens.




Prognosis for Bastille Day

 The celebration of Bastille Day on July 14th has been a French tradition for over two hundred years.  Each year it brings French citizens together to celebrate the rememberance of the storming of the Bastille. This celebration remains a popular event during the year in France.  The popularity of Bastille Day was increased during the bicentennial anniversary on July 14th 1989 and there was a focus on "return to politics" which led to the inspiration of "historians to carve out a whole new set of questions regarding revolutionary political culture." (Desan 2000).  The events of two hundred years prior to 1989 recreated a political and cultural stir in France.  "Because of the great historical milestones with which they dealt, the Revolutionary Bicentenary and the Year 2000 celebrations stand apart from the other great public celebrations that have taken place in France in recent years." (Leruth 2001).  Bastille Day is a special tradition in France, and the popularity of the celebration has been steady because of the nature of the holiday, France's National Independence Day.  It is a main fixture in the French calendar and will remain popular for many years. 



Bastille Day is celebrated every year all throughout France.  This celebration commemorates the storming of the Bastille on July 14th 1789 when France citizens decided that they would no longer be rulled by an absolute monarch.  The French united and as a result of their togetherness, they were able to overthrow King Louis XVI and eventually create a new republic.  By celebrating this event, people come together and the heart of the celebration takes place in Paris, the nation's capital.  A sense of solidarity emerges because of Bastile Day celebrations.  Communitas, a de-emphasis on individualism and focus on unification of the people occurs during this celebration.  People gather in Paris to view the parades that travel up the Champs Elysées.  The strength of French peasants of long ago is never forgotten.  Bastille Day serves as a reminder of what the people united under a common goal can accomplish.  The French flag, le Tricolore, is proudly displayed throughout the city and the celebration closes with a spectacular firework display, which illuminates the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  This is a celebration that brings everyone together to help remember the past and celebrate the change of the government.


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

    Evans, Estyn E.

    1996   France: An Introductory Geography. Frederick A. Prauger. New York.

  • Desan, Suzanne.
    2000 What's after Political Culture? Recent French Revolutionary Historiography. French Historical Studies; Winter 2000 Vol. 23 Issue 1, p 163, 34,ip,url,uid&db=aph&an=2833236
  • Leruth, Michael.
    2001 Themes of the French Year 2000Celebration. Modern & Contemporary France (467-   482)  College of William and Mary, VA.
  • Lusebrink, Hans-Jurgen, Reichardt, Rolf.
    1997   The Bastille: A History of a Symbol of Despotism and Freedom.  Duke University Press.
  • Pinchemel, Philippe.
    1987     France: A Geographical, Social, and Economic Survey. Cambridge University Press.  Cambridge.
  • Turner, Victor and Edith Turner
    1982    Religious Celebrations. In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual.  Victor Turner, ed. Pp. 201-219 Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
  • Weber, Eugen
    1991   Who sang the Marseillaise? in My France: Politics, Culture, Myth.  Eugen Weber ed. Pp 92-102.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge MA.


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