Bastille Day celebrates the storming of the Bastille – a military fortress and prison – on 14 July 1789, in a violent uprising that was a turning point in the French Revolution. Holding gunpowder and other supplies valuable to revolutionaries, the Bastille also symbolized the callous tyranny of the French monarchy, especially King Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette.
Built in the 1300s during the Hundred Years War against the English, it was designed to protect the eastern entrance to Paris. The formidable stone building’s massive defences included 100-foot-high walls and a wide moat, plus more than 80 regular soldiers and 30 Swiss mercenaries standing guard.
As a prison, it held political dissidents (including the writer and philosopher Voltaire), many of whom were locked away without a trial by order of the king. By 1789 it was scheduled for demolition, to be replaced by a public square.
Bastille Day – known in France as la Fête Nationale or le 14 juillet (14 July) – is a public holiday in France, celebrated by nationwide festivities including fireworks, parades and parties.