On July 14, 1789, a crowd of French citizens began to gather outside the Bastille, an armory and political prison in the heart of Paris. The massive, foreboding structure was seen by French citizens as a symbol of the monarchy’s authoritarian rule. The governor of the Bastille, Bernard-René Jourdan de Launay, invited a few leaders of the protest inside to negotiate.
As negotiations dragged on, the crowd grew restless. Members of what by then was a kind of mob scaled the Bastille’s walls and lowered the drawbridge. They then stormed in. De Launay ordered his troops to fire on the crowd. Nearly 100 revolutionaries were killed in the siege. The tide turned when the French Guard arrived and joined with the revolutionaries, unleashing cannon fire on the Bastille and forcing de Launay to surrender.
The Bastille was systematically demolished and the storming of the fortress was both an inflection point of the revolution and a symbol of the violence that characterized it—violence that reached a head with the Reign of Terror a few years later. In 1790, a massive event known as the Fête de la Fédération was held to celebrate the revolution. Now known as La Fête Nationale or Bastille Day, it is celebrated with traditional parties, a massive military parade, and other festivities. These places are rich with the history of this tumultuous period, and perfect places to learn more.