History of Bastille Day: Its Relation to the French Revolution


Each year on July 14, Bastille Day is celebrated to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille in Paris on this date in 1789, an important date in the French Revolution.

Also known as French National Day, it features feasting, fireworks, public dancing, and an address by the French President.

ArcHowever, the center of this celebration is the largest and oldest European military parade along the Avenue of the Champs-Élysées. This wide boulevard runs through Paris and is called la plus belle avenue du monde. Lined by high-end shops and eateries, as well as the Arch of Triumph in the middle, it is undoubtedly the most beautiful avenue in the world I’ve walked along.

Bastille Day is celebrated across the globe wherever French ex-patriots, people of French ancestry, and Francophiles live.


Origin of Bastille Day

The Bastille

The Bastille

The event’s history goes back to 1789, at the time of France’s monarchy under King Louis XVI, when he invited the Estates-General, representing the common people, to voice their grievances about high taxes and rising food prices. The people were unhappy about the economic crisis brought on by:

  • Louis’ extravagant spending at Versailles
  • The building of his navy
  • His financial support of the American Revolution, thanks to the negotiations of Ben Franklin, the first American Minister (Ambassador) to France

But fear of reprisal caused the people to storm the fortress/prison known as the Bastille to seize gunpowder and ammunition and free political prisoners. This was considered the start of the French Revolution.

Shortly after that, France’s newly formed National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism and passed in August the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, becoming a fundamental document of the French Revolution. The following year, on July 14, 1790, the Fête de la Fédération was held to celebrate.


Historical Progression of Bastille Day

Monet's Rue Montorgueil

Monet’s Rue Montorgueil

As we know, the celebration commemorated in a painting by Claude Monet called Rue Montorgueil was held on June 30, 1878. It became an annual national holiday. Throughout the 1880s, it was celebrated famously as a victory over the old ancien régime, that period when the monarchy ruled France. The military parades we now see began along the main boulevard, including marches by the Allies following the signing of the Versailles Peace Conference after WWI.

Of course, the Liberation of Paris was celebrated along the Champs-Élysées on August 25, 1944. The parades pass along the boulevard from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where the Champs-Élysées ends at Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) and the Impressionist art gallery Musée de l’Orangerie, adjacent to the Louvre.

Ironically, Place de la Concorde was previously called Place de la Révolution. Many notable public executions were carried out by guillotine during the French Revolution, including those of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette in 1793.


American Connection to Bastille Day

This “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” document was heavily influenced by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote it with French General Lafayette. Lafayette had come to America to aid in the American Revolutionary War in 1777.

It was influenced by Jefferson’s other writings, including the American Declaration of Independence, and itself inspired the later 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the Declaration of Independence led later to the writing of the American Constitution, so too did the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen led to the drafting of a constitution for France.

And Bastille Day is strategically placed after the American National French Fry Day.


Bastille Day Today


Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe

Bastille Day, or La Fête Nationale, the National Celebration or simply Le Quatorze Juillet, the fourteenth of July, has been celebrated for over two hundred years in Paris, except during the German occupation during World War II when General Charles de Gaulle led it in London.


The French say, “Vive la France!”


How do you celebrate la fête du 14-Juillet?


Guillaume Petro, your friendly neighborhood Francophile


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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. Deadmandeadman one on July 14, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    An interesting and informative read, but that’s not unusual. My Mother’s side of the family were French-Canadian. I made the mistake of speaking Canadian French in Paris, it wasn’t pretty.

    • billpetro on July 14, 2020 at 8:25 pm


      I’m not surprised. I learned Parisian French when I was in school, but if you’re from the countryside and come to the Big City of Paris, you may be looked down upon by the Parisians.


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