The Storming Of The Bastille

By | August 30, 2019

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Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 2017. Source: (

Every year on July 14, the French celebrate Bastille Day, the anniversary of the day in 1789 when the citizens of Paris stormed the 14th-century gothic prison known as the Bastille. The event is commemorated for launching the French Revolution which was responsible for overturning the French monarchy and introducing the nation to civil rights. Bastille Day is to France what the Fourth of July is to the United States - their Independence Day.

The Bastille was built as a fortified gate during the reign of Charles V, who laid the first stone on April 22, 1370. Charles VI turned it into an independent stronghold. But it was Cardinal de Richelieu of the 17th century who first used it as a prison. Originally, prisoners could only be held there under the direct order of the king but, under Louis XIV, its use was broadened to prisoners detained by the police. While it held an average of forty prisoners a year during the 17th century, there were only seven prisoners incarcerated there on July 14, 1789.

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A representation of the Bastille, as it might have looked by 1420. Source: (

During the summer of 1789, Paris was in turmoil. When Charles Dickens began his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with the words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” it was this time period to which he referred. And for the citizens of Paris, it was the worst of times. They were underfed and overtaxed, thanks in no short part to debts accumulated by King Louis XVI, and they were put on edge by the constant presence of troops around the city.