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Yoga Korunta

Life & Politics

Location: United States

One learns, as nothing endures but change.

14 July 2007

Bastille Day

Bastille Day is the French national holiday, celebrated on 14 July each year. In France, it is called "Fête Nationale" ("National Holiday"), in official parlance, or more commonly "quatorze juillet" ("14th of July"). It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789; the storming of the Bastille was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern French "nation", and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic, during the French Revolution.

1 Current festivities
2 History
2.1 The Storming of the Bastille
2.2 The Fête de la Fédération
2.3 Origin of the present holiday
3 References
4 Trivia
5 External links

Current festivities

Jacques Chirac reviewing troops on the 2003 Bastille Day parade.
14 July is the French Bastille day, simply called 14 Juillet or less commonly but more officially Fête nationale (though it is generally referred to as Bastille Day in English). Many cities hold fireworks during the night. Many dancing parties are organised (bals du 14 juillet) and it is customary that firefighters organise them (bals des pompiers). Those celebrations take place from 13 July at night to 14 July.

The day officially celebrates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, though it is often associated, even in France, with the Storming of the Bastille. Military parades, called Défilés du 14 juillet, are held on the morning of 14 July, the largest of which takes place on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic.

The parade opens with cadets from certain schools (École Polytechnique, Saint-Cyr, École Navale, and so forth), then other infantry troops, then motorised troops; aviation of the Patrouille de France flies above. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France's close allies into the parade; for instance, in 2004 during the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, British troops (the band of the Royal Marines, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, Grenadier Guards and King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery) led the Bastille Day parade in Paris for the first time, with the Red Arrows flying overhead.

The parade also involves the French Republican Guard, and occasionally (non-military) police units; it always ends with the much-cheered and popular Paris Fire Brigade (which, exceptionally, has military status in France). Traditionally, the students of the École Polytechnique set up some form of joke.

The president then gives an interview to members of the press, discussing the situation of the country, recent events and projects for the future. He also holds a garden party at the Palais de l'Elysée.

Bastille Day also falls during the running of the Tour de France, and is traditionally the day upon which French riders will make a special effort to take a stage victory for France.


Storming of the Bastille

On 5 May 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were clergy and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Assembly. On 20 June the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing not to separate until a Constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by delegates of the other estates; Louis started to recognize their validity on 27 June. The Assembly re-named itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.

In the wake of the 11 July dismissal of the royal finance minister Jacques Necker, the people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, and seeking to gain arms for the general populace, stormed the Bastille, a prison which had often held people arbitrarily jailed on the basis of lettre de cachet. Besides holding a large cache of arms, the Bastille had long been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, though, at the time of the siege in mid-July 1789 there were only 7 inmates, none of great political significance.

When the crowd—eventually reinforced by mutinous gardes françaises—proved to be a fair match for the fort's defenders, the commander of the Bastille, Governor de Launay capitulated and opened the gates in order to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender had died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, De Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was the 'prévôt es marchands' (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles.

The storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than a practical act of defiance.

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed.

The Fête de la Fédération

Main article: Fête de la Fédération

The Fête de la Fédération of the 14 July 1790 was a huge feast and official event to celebrate the uprising of the short-lived constitutional monarchy in France and what people of the time considered to be the happy conclusion of the French Revolution.

The event took place on the Champ de Mars, which was at the time outside of Paris. The place had been transformed on a voluntary basis by the population of Paris itself, in what was recalled as the Journée des brouettes ("Wheelbarrow Day").

A mass was celebrated by Talleyrand, bishop of Autun. The very popular General La Fayette, as both captain of the National Guard of Paris and confidant of the king, took his oath to the Constitution, followed by the King Louis XVI.

After the end of the official celebration, the day ended in a huge four day popular feast.

Origin of the present holiday

On 30 June 1878, a feast had been set in Paris by official decision to honour the Republic (the event was immortalised by a painting by Claude Monet). On the 14 July 1879, another feast took place, with a semi-official aspect; the events of the day included a military review in Longchamp, a reception in the Chambre of Deputies, organised and presided by Léon Gambetta, and a Republican Feast in the pré Catelan with Louis Blanc and Victor Hugo. All through France, as Le Figaro wrote on the 16, "people feasted a lot to honour the Bastille".

On the 21 May 1880, Benjamin Raspail presented a law proposal to have "the Republic choose the 14 July as a yearly national holiday". The Assembly voted the text on 21 May and 8 June. The Senate approved on 27 and 29 June, favouring 14 July against 4 August (honouring the end of the feudal system on 4 August 1789). The law was made official on 6 July 1880, and the Ministry of the Interior recommended to the prefects that the day should be "celebrated with all the brilliance that the local resources allow". Indeed, the celebrations of the new holiday in 1880 were particularly magnificent.

In the debate leading up to the adoption of the holiday, Henri Martin, chairman of the French Senate, addressed that chamber 29 June 1880. "Do not forget that behind this 14 July, where victory of the new era over the ancien régime was bought by fighting, do not forget that after the day of 14 July 1789, there was the day of 14 July 1790. … This [latter] day cannot be blamed for having shed a drop of blood, for having divided the country. It was the consecration of unity of France. … If some of you might have scruples against the first 14 July, they certainly hold none against the second. Whatever difference which might part us, something hovers over them, it is the great images of national unity, which we all desire, for which we would all stand, willing to die if necessary."



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