July 14 … Bastille Day … All about chopping off heads … and democracy …

There is a festive air in Paris. Oh, it is raining, yes, but despite that we here in Paris (or some of us) will be celebrating over the next 48 hours. The reason: A few hours away is France’s fête nationale – national day. That is what the French call this day of July 14. […]

Engraving of the storming of the Bastille

There is a festive air in Paris. Oh, it is raining, yes, but despite that we here in Paris (or some of us) will be celebrating over the next 48 hours.

The reason:

A few hours away is France’s fête nationale – national day.

That is what the French call this day of July 14.

Foreigners call it Bastille Day.

So did – still do – I because when I was a child at school in Africa I learned about how the French chopped the head off of their monarch and then chopped the head off of his wife and they did so in public and how little old ladies in tennis shoes sat knitting at the foot of the guillotine. Okay, maybe not tennis shoes, but whatever little old ladies wore on their feet those days of the 18th century.

As a child I found it shocking that the French could have done that. Today, ah! Today I believe that it was the wisest thing the French have ever done, and maybe they will never do something as wise ever again.

On that July 14, 1789 – 223 years ago – angry Parisians stormed a prison on the eastern gateway of Paris. The prison named the Chastel Saint-Antoinethe Bastille Saint-Antoine – had been in existence since 1357, first as a fort for protection against the warmongering English, and then as a prison where the French monarchs ncarcerated their enemies- or rather their opponents.

In 1789, Louis 16 was on France’s throne and the storming of the prison marked the end of not only his reign but of the monarchy. He and his wife Marie-Antoinette were imprisoned and on January 21, 1793 he was guillotined on what is today Place de la Concorde and Marie-Antoinette’s head was chopped off on October 16, 1793 also on Place de la Concorde.

Et violà – France became a democracy which it still is.

The fort (I will call it by its correct name  – the Bastille – from now on) was ransacked, set alight and demolished so that only a pile of stones remained. Eventually, the site was cleared for the building of homes for the Parisians and some of the stones were used in the construction of those homes, or were used for the laying of Paris’s streets and also for the construction of the Pont (bridge) de la Concorde over the River Seine.

Pont de la Concorde built with the stones from the Bastille

Then in 1899 – 110 years after the storming of the Bastille – during excavation work for the construction of Paris’s first Métro (Métropolitain) underground railroad line, workers came to a section of the building’s foundation under what is today Rue Saint-Antoine.

Construction of Metro Line One

Those foundation stones were removed and stored and a year later (1900) they were used for the construction of a small monument on a square not far from where the Bastille had stood which is today Place Bastille on the border of the 11th and 12th arrondissements (districts).

The square – Henri Galli – is on the crossroad formed by Quai des Célestins and Boulevard Henri IV, and beside the Sully-Morland Métro station.

The stones are marked with a plaque, which reads as follows:

The monument

VESTIGES DES FONDATIONS
DE LA BASTILLE
LA TOUR DE LA LIBERTE
DECOUVERTS EN 1899
ET TRANSPORTES SUR CET EMPLACEMENT

REMAINS OF THE FOUNDATIONS
OF THE BASTILLE
THE LIBERTY TOWER
DISCOVERED IN 1899
AND TRANSPORTED TO THIS LOCATION

Should you be in Paris, do go and see the monument. Just walk east along the Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral to your right, and you will reach the square which will be on your left. It’s a very pleasant stroll.

And just think: You will be able to touch the Bastille!

Marie-Antoinette in her cell in the Conciergerie in Paris … or as near to as possible (Copyright Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

One Response to “July 14 … Bastille Day … All about chopping off heads … and democracy …”

  1. 1
    Susie Says:

    Enjoy the celebrations, Marilyn. I take it you’ll be wearing your best tennis shoes and clicking away with your needles. 🙂

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