14 juillet : rien

Jour de la prise de la Bastille, 14 juillet 1789. France's fête nationale, or -- as others call it ;-) -- Bastille Day.

When the King invited you in his Château de la Bastille, you knew it would not be for a partie de plaisir. Embastillé became a synonym of "thrown in jail".

Some more or less funny and ironic facts about la Bastille:

  • its construction started between 1367 and 1371
  • its architect, Hugues Aubriot, became its first "host" after he was disgraced for trying to force all the unemployed parisians to work on the building site
  • it became a state prison in the 17th Century, under Richelieu
  • one would be embastillé after an order of the King, not after a judgment.
  • prisoners were criminals, spies, traitors, disgraced aristocrats or writers who displeased the King. Some famous hosts: le Marquis de Sade, Voltaire or the mysterious homme au masque de fer (an unknown man wearing an iron mask, rumored to be the twin brother of Louis XIV). When Voltaire was released in 1717, after nearly a year in la Bastille, he received a financial compensation from the King and joked about it: "I thank his Royal Highness for taking care of my food but I wish he would stop taking care of my lodging."
  • there were only seven prisoners left on July 14, 1789
  • the rebels who took la Bastille were seeking firearms and ammunitions. The taking of this symbol of the King's total tyranny is more of a consequence of the foolish resistance of the local guards. July 14th ended in a blood bath.
  • Demolition started on the 16th

On the 14th, Louis XVI, who didn't take anything during his daily hunt in Versailles, wrote in his personal diary: "14 juillet : rien" (July 14: nothing). He goes on sleep, then is awaken by La Rochefoucault-Liancourt and the famous dialog follows:

-- Sire la Bastille est prise, le gouverneur a été assassiné, on porte sa tête au bout d'une pique. Sire, la Bastille has been taken, the governor has been murdered, his head is displayed on a stick.
-- Mais, c'est une révolte ? But, this is a revolt?
-- Non, Sire, c'est une révolution ! No Sire, it is a revolution!


If you visit Paris and come at la place de la Bastille, take the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine (on the West, towards rue de Rivoli) and look down near rue Jacques Coeur, for stones that delimit one of the old castle towers. There is also a sign, visible underground in the subway line 1, that marks the foundations of the same tower.

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Sur la place elle même, un pavé de couleur différente montre les anciens contours de la Bastille.

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