In typical Les Belles fashion, we celebrate bold rebels who go against the grain to bend [and sometimes break] the rules. When you think of badass leaders that fight for their beliefs, the participants of the French Revolution may not be first to come to mind. However, these radical revolutionaries achieved the impossible, overthrowing a powerful king and taking control of their county. This group led the way globally for free thinkers, loud personalities, unconventional speech and overall paved the path for people to be unapologetically themselves. In honor of the original free spirits [and of course our own French roots] we laid out five facts you may or may not have known about Bastille Day.
1. In France, the holiday isn't called "Bastille Day."
The day is referred to as la Fête Nationale, or “the National Holiday.” In more informal settings, French people also call it le Quatorze Juillet “14 July.” The name "Bastille Day" is an English term that’s seldom used within French borders—at least by non-tourists.
2. The name “Bastille Day” is in reference to the large tower in Southern France that was used to protect Paris from invading enemies.
The name “Bastille” comes from the word bastide, which means “fortification,” a generic term for a certain type of tower in France until it was eventually restricted to one particular Bastille. The Bastille, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, was conceived as a fortress to stall an attack on Paris during the Hundred Years’ War. The Bastille, built in 1357 changed dramatically over the next century. By the end of 1383, it had evolved into a much larger structure complete with eight towers and a moat.
After the development of the structure, King Louis XIII, found the location to be perfect for jailing his adversaries. All who spoke and acted against him would be held prisoner there.
3. Growing tension among the people of France led to a revolt at The Bastille.
July of 1789, France had an uproar among the people brewing due to bad weather causing food prices to soar to unreachable levels. To further add fury to the fire, the public resented King Louis XVI’s overly extravagant lifestyle.
In a desperate attempt to address France’s economic crisis and increasing unrest, Louis XVI assembled the Estates-General in 1789, a national assembly that represented the three “estates” of the French people–the nobles, the clergy, and the commons. This was the first assemblage of the Estates-General since 1614.
The Third Estate, the commons, was the largest group of representatives, and declared themselves the National Assembly. The group pledged to force a new constitution upon the king. And initially Louis agreed to the demands of the committee, but then flooded Versailles with troops and dismissed Jacques Necker, a minister of state and an integral member of the National Assembly. The Parisian response was to charge the Bastille, the site where the state’s gunpowder and ammunition were stored. And so began the French Revolution.
4. Exactly one year after the Bastille was famously stormed, a huge celebration took place in honor of the famous revolt.
By July 14, 1790, the Bastille had been completely destroyed. The brave act paved the way for France to operate under a more democratic government, a constitutional monarchy. The arrangement divided power equally between the king and the Nation Assembly.
To commemorate the new advances in French government, a huge celebration took place exactly one year after the Bastille overthrow. French citizens from every walk of life joined in on the massive celebration. The event was aptly named “Festival of the Federation,” and even King Louis himself came to join the party, showing up in attendance with 200 priests at his side.
5. The grand Bastille Day parade is the oldest and largest regular military procession in Western Europe
The esteemed Parisian parade dates all the way back to 1880. In the early years, the parade route would vary annually, winding and twisting all over Paris. However, since 1918 the beloved procession has consistently kept to marching down the Champs-Élysées, the most famous avenue in Paris. Each year Paris puts on a grand ceremony, in 2019 the event featured 39 helicopters, 69 planes, and 4000 soldiers. It’s also fairly common to see military officials from other countries to participate. In 2015, 150 Mexican Solider came to Paris to march alongside their French counterparts.
Now pour yourself a glass of champagne and celebrate the bold and the brave who paved the way for us to be les belles in our own unique way.