The History of the Bastille

The morning of July 14th 1789, the Bastille awoke for the last time. Nearly a thousand Parisians were storming towards its thick, foreboding walls.

Only eighty-two ageing veterans and 32 Swiss mercenaries stood between them and the destruction of the sinister prison - the ultimate symbol of the King's power. Despite the tension that had been infecting Paris in the previous days, the defenders of the Bastille were not anxious about the attack - they were expecting no more than a disorganized rabble.

By mid-morning a crowd of over 8000 men and women had gathered outside theBastille, demanding its surrender. Negotiations began but the crowd, waiting in the stifling summer heat, grew impatient and broke through into the undefended inner courtyard.


Gun fire broke out and the panic of the large crowd was only appeased by the arrival of 300 mutinous soldiers of the French Army and two cannons.

By early evening the vainqueuers overwhelmed the opposition and swept in to take control of the Bastille.

The victorious mob released 7 prisoners: four forgers, two lunatics, and a young noble. But this meager number didn't deter them. They symbol of the King's power was broken and so they cut off the head of the Governor of the Bastille, De Launay, and paraded around the streets of Paris with it on a pike.

Overall eighty-three of the attacking mob were dead, and seventy-three injured. Only one of the guards had been killed.

The Origins of the Bastille

Converted to a prison in the early 17th century, the Bastille played host to everyone and anyone who displeased the King Louis XIII.


It was built as the Bastion de Saint-Antoine in 1382 during the Hundred Years' War. It was intended to defend Paris from enemies and was constructed with eight towers and walls over eighty feet high.

Being well stocked and of a fearsome size, the Bastille became famous as one of Europe's most secure military strong points. However, after surrendering six out of the seven times it was besieged, the legend surrounding it faded.

The offenders were arrested by order of a secret warrant issued by the King and imprisoned in one of the Bastille's towers, without trial and without explanation.

Bastille Day

Since July 14th 1879, the French have celebrated the storming of the Bastille and the uprising of the people which ultimately gave birth to the French Revolution. Fireworks, food, flags and a military parade fill the streets of Paris and towns all around France.

Bastille Day is celebrated in cities all over the world that have a large French Quarter, including Milwaukee which begins the four-day celebrations with a their own "storming of the Bastille" and 43 foot likeness of the Eiffel Tower.

In Philadelphia, their very own American Marie Antoinette throws pastries at the Parisian militia and the Empire State Building is illuminated in blue, white and red.