Bastille Day, the French national holiday, commemorates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14th, 1789. It marks the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis the 16th’s Ancient Regime. By capturing this symbol, the people signalled that the king’s power was no longer absolute: power should be based on the Nation and be limited by a separation of powers.
Amazingly, the Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture. However, the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens. Like the tricolore flag, it symbolized the Republic’s three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens.
This momentous event marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign Nation, and, eventually, the creation of the (First) Republic, in 1792.
In France, Bastille Day is formally called La Fête Nationale (The National Celebration) and more commonly le quatorze juillet (the fourteenth of July). It is only in other countries that it is referred to as Bastille Day.
On the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, delegates from every region of France proclaimed their allegiance to a single national community during the Fête de la Fédération in Paris – the first time in history that a people had claimed their right to self-determination. Bastille Day has such a strong signification for the French because the holiday symbolizes the birth of the Republic.
Etymology – Bastille
Bastille is an alternate spelling of bastide (fortification), from the Provençal word bastida (built). There’s also a verb: embastiller (to establish troops in a prison).