France terror attack: What is Bastille Day?

As news of the attack in Nice, France, spreads, the hashtag #BastilleDay has begun to trend on social media.

The attack by an as yet unknown terrorist happened on a national holiday for the French,  one called Bastille Day by the English and Americans,  thus the hashtag.

But to the French it's something else. Here’s the history of that name.

What does the term Bastille Day mean?

Bastille Day is a common English term  for French National Day. The celebration, much like America’s 4th of July, takes place on July 14 each year. It is formally called La fete nationale  (The National Celebration) or, more commonly in France, La quatorze juillet (the fourteenth of July). The French do not use the term “Bastille Day.”

What was the Bastille?

The Bastille, originally built  in 1370, was a structure constructed to protect the city of Paris from attack by the English. Later, the fortress, a symbol of King Louis XVI’s rule, was used as a prison, mainly for more wealthy felons and spies. The Marquis de Sade was a prisoner there. The building itself was 100 feet tall and surrounded by an 80-foot wide moat.

What does it have to do with the  July 14 celebration?

French National Day is a celebration of the storming of the Bastille by the revolutionaries which took place on July 14, 1789. A mob, trying to get the weapons housed inside the prison, attacked the building on the east side of Paris. The attack came some 48 hours after the people of the country had launched the French Revolution.

Can I go see where this happened?

You can see the spot, but there is nothing of the Bastille left there. It was destroyed on that day in 1789.

Why the revolution?

It started for the usual reasons a revolution does – an out-of-touch monarch oppressing the masses. For the French particularly, Louis’ failings along with high taxes and food prices was all the spark that was needed.

So how did it end?

The revolution went well for the people, not so much for the king and his queen – Marie Antoinette. They would both be executed by the end of that year. A new document that grew out of the reveloution, known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, served as a constitution and proclaim the rights of French citizens.

What do people in France do on Bastille day?

Pretty much the same thing we do in the United States on July 4 -- take the day off, spend it with family and friends, eat, celebrate and watch fireworks at night. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on July 14  on  the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the French president and his guests.

Sources: History.com; Wikipedia; 

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