Bastille Day: Storm The Prison, Revolutionize The Country

By | July 12, 2020

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(Bibliothèque nationale de France/Wikimedia Commons)

On July 14, 1789, A.K.A. Bastille Day, a crowd of Parisians stormed the Bastille and demolished the former stronghold of France. As a symbol of the French Revolution, the Bastille was important not only as a symbol of the silencing power of the upper class but as evidence that people can make their voices heard, no matter how small they feel.

Ahead Of Its Time

During the Hundred Years' War between England and France, the Bastille was built to protect Paris from an attack from the east. Construction of the towers began in 1370 and finished during the reign of Charles VI, around 1380. As one of the strongest fortified buildings of the era, the Bastille was a garrison that was ahead of its time. Historians note that the Bastille's walls and towers stood at the same height, which allowed soldiers to move through the fortress with ease rather than travel from level to level whenever strategy dictated. By 1420, Henry V had taken over the Bastille, which he used more as a prison than a military stronghold. It was reclaimed 16 years later after a standoff between the French and the English that resulted in Henry's men forfeiting the fortress, but its rightful owners had to admit he was onto something.

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(Unknown artist/Wikimedia Commons)

Fortress To Subdivision

During the reign of Louis XI in the 15th century, the French monarch operated the Bastille both as a royal castle and a state prison. Royal functions were held and foreign dignitaries stayed at the Bastille, all while prisoners of the state were kept in their cells. As the years progressed, subsequent monarchs fortified the Bastille further and further. Henry II removed all the exits and entrances until there was only one way in and out of the stronghold, and the building's gatehouse was changed to a massive arch under his direction. In 1660, Louis XIV ordered the installation of a new archway at the Porte Saint-Antoine, and 10 years later, the walls of the city leading to the Bastille were torn down and replaced with trees, basically turning the area into a suburb dominated by a defunct military fortress. Prisoners used the building's bastion as a garden.