- “Is this a revolt?” asked Louis XVI to the Duque of Rochefoucauld, to which he replied:
- “No Sire, this is a revolution.”
One of King Louis XVI’s most trusted counsellor pronounced those ominous words on July 12, 1789. Two days later, the royal fortress of Bastille — a symbol of despotism — was attacked.
The tide of patriotic fervour led to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. “Men are born free and remain free and equal in rights.” Nations around the world modelled their bill of rights after this now universal sentence. No wonder France’s national holiday, le quatorze juillet*, is world famous.
Every year, since 1880*, Bastille Day’s notoriety is matched by festivities and pomp honouring the republic to the rhythm of the national anthem La Marseillaise.
In Paris, celebrations start with Alpha Jets of La Patrouille de France (a division of France’s air force) in the morning. The powerful steel engines thunder past the capital trailing smoke in red, white, and blue of the national flag. The traditional military parade begins at 11 a. m. Some 4,000 soldiers, police officers, fire-fighters, including cadets of military academies begin rolling down Paris’ famed Champs-Elysées Avenue, as the flanked crowd cheers on.
The 14 juillet military parade is the oldest and arguably the largest in Europe: regiments in tight formation, the Garde Républicaine riding horses, traditional uniforms. The parade moves on close-order drills from place de l’Etoile to place de la Concorde.
In the afternoon, Paris comes alive as the city prepares for the fire department balls commonly held in almost every neighbourhood.
The high point of the festivities: the free concert on the Champs-de-Mars followed by the fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. Beginning at sunset, 250 musicians of the National Orchestra of France and of the Radio France Choir serenade the sparkling Iron Lady with Mozart, Verdi, and Berlioz, and Wagner. Then, 500, 000 spectators watch in awe as fireworks transform the skyline into a kaleidoscope of colour for thirty-five minute.
Paris is not the only city to observe le 14 juillet. From big cities to small villages, festivities across the lands are marked by sports, cultural events, and gastronomy.
Some hold picnics and music, or a bal musette (French dance accompanied by an accordion band) and of course firework shows. Others commemorate on the side of the road, cheering and waving flags for the French contenders of the Tour de France. What an honour to win one of the Grande Boucle stages on July 14!
Across the country, people of all ages come together to celebrate, and simply enjoy the public holiday.
*In France, the national holiday is referred to as le 14 juillet or le quatorze juillet (July 14).
*In 1790, the public event was originally called “Fête de la Fédération.” Le quatorze juillet celebrations became less popular under Napoleon. It was only in 1880 that July 14 was adopted as a national holiday and celebrated every year— with the exception of the two world wars.