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Posts Tagged ‘French national holiday’

La Fête Nationale – Bastille Day in France!

July 13, 2011 11:12 am
posted by Sarah

It’s the 14th July so get ready for parties, feasts and fireworks! But this thursday isn’t just any national holiday in France: known as Bastille Day or La Fête Nationale, the date represents independence, freedom and one of the pivotal moments in French history – the storming of the Bastille.

Here’s our guide to the history, celebrations and food to be enjoyed during Bastille Day, so start waving your Tricolore, belt out your finest rendition of La Marseillaise and get ready for some fantastique parties. Viva la France!

And if this whets your appetite for exploring everything Francais, what better way  to experience France than on a self-catering holiday. And Pierre & Vacances have a wide variety of holiday apartments and self-catering resorts for families all over France – from accommodation in Normandy and Paris, to apartments in Vendee and the South of France.

The Bastille

The Bastille de Saint-Antoine, to give it its formal name, is one of the most infamous fortress and prisons in the world. Built in the 14th Century during the Hundred Years’ War with Britain, it held all manner of prisoners – from the thieves and fraudsters, to those accused of religious and high-profile crimes.

The secrecy around the fortress and its prisoners gained the Bastille a sinister reputation amongst Parisians and it soon became a symbol of the tyranny of their absolute monarch, which in 1789 was King Louis XVI.

It’s reputation was so ominous that it also housed some of the most infamous literary prisoners too, including the Comte de Rochefort (The Three Musketeers), Doctor Alexander Manette (A Tale of Two Cities), M. Thénardier (Les Miserables) and the King’s twin brother Philippe (The Man in the Iron Mask).

1789 and the storming of the Bastille

Prise de la Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

In 1789 France was in the midst of political upheaval, with the swing of power away from the King and the aristocracy [which made up 2% of the population] and towards the Bourgeoisie [middle class] who had created the National Assembly to push through a new constitution – the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

French journalist and historian Francois Mignet wrote at the time that Paris was ‘intoxicated with liberty and enthusiasm’, showing wide support for the Assembly and an increasing hostility towards King Louis XVI and his immensely unpopular wife Queen Marie Antoinette.

The storming of the Bastille came after three days of protests over King Louis’ dismissal of a key supporter of the National Assembly, and what the people on the street saw as his attempt to regain complete control.

In July 1789 the Bastille only held seven prisoners – four forgers, two ‘lunatics’ and one ‘deviant’ aristocrat.  But as well as keeping criminals, the Bastille also stored gunpowder and arms, and it was this that the crowd were after when they stormed the fortress on 14th July 1789.

A crowd of nearly 9,000 men and women gathered outside the Bastille mid-morning, calling for the release of arms and gunpowder and surrender of the prison. Negotiations started, but by mid afternoon the rioters were bolstered by mutinous Gardes Françaises of the Royal Army, and more importantly – two cannons. Governor Bernard-René de Launay surrendered and allowed the rioters into the fortress where they took the arms and gunpowder, released the seven prisoners and killed Launay and his 120 guards.

By the next day the prison was already being demolished and six months later there was barely a trace of its 400 year history, luckily some foundations still remain today. But the storming of the Bastille had a huge propaganda value, and quickly became a symbol of freedom, independence and the beginning of the French revolution.

Remaining stones of the Bastille are still visible now on Boulevard Henri IV


Bastille Day celebrations

Bastille Day doesn’t officially celebrate the storming of the Bastille, but rather the Fête de la Fédération: the celebrations held in 1790 on the first anniversary of the fall of the prison.

In 1790 the Fête de la Fédération honored the recently established constitutional monarchy and the stability of the new political system [and by 1794 a Republic would be in power and the King would have been executed for high treason]. The day was a huge success with parades, balls and a huge feast which began at 4am!

Modern Bastille Day celebrations start a little later in the day, but you can be sure to see parades, musical performances, meals, dances and, of course, spectacular fireworks! Celebrations are held all over France, from the large to the small, but the most spectacular are in Paris.

French parties often kick off on the evening of 13 July with nationwide ‘bal des pompiers’ (‘firemen’s balls’), with live music and street parties. Then on the morning of 14 July, the President leads a military parade along the Champs- Elysées with a display of jets flying over the Arc de Triomphe leaving red, white and blue – for the French Tricolore flag.

However the biggest highlight of any Bastille Day is the awesome hour-long firework display around the Eiffel Tower which never fails to take the breath away.

Bastille Day food

Even if you’re not in France for the biggest party of the summer, feed your inner Francophile with a French themed menu  – think ratatouille, Niçoise salads, crepes filled with French gruyere cheese, mushrooms and spinach, or if like the French you fancy taking the cooking outdoors, a BBQ of fresh seafood, all washed down with a chilled Sémillon or Chenin blanc, [or an Orangina for les enfants].

And for more delicious dish ideas, region by region, check out our French recipe blog.