Bastille Day Facts for Kids

  • Bastille Day is a holiday that celebrates the storming of the Bastille. 
  • It was a military fortress and prison. There was also gunpowder and other supplies there. 
  • The Bastille symbolized the bad government of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

The Bastille was a prison taken by an angry mob of the people of Paris on July 14, 1789, during the French Revolution. Keep reading to learn more Bastille Day facts.

The 14th of July today is a holiday in France. It was established in 1880 and it commemorates two things:

  • The storming of the Bastille which happened on July 14, 1789
  • The Festival of the Federation that was on July 14, 1790

The storming of the Bastille

In 1789, the people of Paris attacked the Bastille. This was a prison for political prisoners and it was also an armory. The people wanted to get weapons from there to fight troops around Paris.

What is the Bastille?

The Bastille was a fortress for the people of Paris. It was built in the 1300s during a war against the English. It was designed to protect the eastern entrance of Paris. 

It had eight towers that were 100 feet (30 meters) high, all connected by walls that were as tall as they are, making it hard to break in or out. There was also a moat around it that was more than 80 feet (24 meters) wide so no one could get inside without being seen first.

It also was guarded by regular soldiers and Swiss mercenaries. It became a French State prison and place for important people to be held who were charged with various things in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

The Bastille was a prison. It was built to keep people who are not allowed to go outside. Some people in the prison were writers and thinkers. The king locked them up without a trial, but then the king decided to take it down because there weren’t many prisoners left by 1789.

There were only seven prisoners in this prison when it was stormed. These seven prisoners were four forgers, two men who were crazy, and one man who was an aristocrat. 

One of the people was an Anglo-Irish man named De Witt (or Whyte). He thought that he was either Julius Caesar, St. Louis, or God. Another prisoner was freed that day but he refused to leave until he had eaten his roast pheasant dinner.

July 14, 1789

The summer of 1789 was a time when France was going through the revolution. 

The military governor of the Bastille fortress, Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, worried that his fort would be attacked by revolutionaries and so requested more men as reinforcements. 

On July 12th, 250 barrels of gunpowder were transferred to the Bastille and Launay brought his men into it to defend themselves if they needed to.

On July 14th, a big crowd of people gathered around the Bastille and were armed with swords and muskets. Launay’s men were able to keep them back, but they kept coming more each day. 

Launay did not get any orders from the king, but he promised that he would not start shooting. He invited some of the people inside to have a dialogue with him. 

Since the talks were taking a long time, people outside became impatient. They thought their delegates were in prison instead of talking.

Tired people tried to break into the Bastille. When the people tried to break a second wall, the Bastille’s commander, Launay, ordered his guards to shoot. 

That is how 100 people were killed and many more were injured. But the commander only lost one of his soldiers, which means he was very good at defending it.

At first, it was not looking good for the revolutionaries. But later that afternoon, some French Guards who were sympathetic to them showed up. 

They were in Paris and they had cannons. When they started shooting at the Bastille from a distance. De Launay waved the white flag because he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep fighting without enough food and water.

De Launay got away and he was alive until he got to the Hotel de Ville. Taken prisoner, Launey was taken to city hall. 

The mob pulled him away and killed him instead of arresting him like they were supposed to do. The people there killed him with a knife and took his head off. They put it on a stick and showed it to other people. 

Other royalists soldiers were killed too, which is scary because they had already started murdering people during the French Revolution.

Read more about French Revolution

July 14, 1790: Fête de la Fédération 

On July 14th in 1880, France got a national holiday. It was in memory of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. This day is also an echo of the festival that happened on July 14, 1790. 

The French Republic made 14th July a national holiday in 1880. People in France thought it was an important idea to have a national day that remembered the Revolution. The law was passed and people started to plan events for the day so that it would be special from the start.

The French people thought that new ceremonies in schools, Republican statues being built, food for the poor, ringing bells, and raising flags were good. 

These things made them feel better about losing Alsace and Lorraine in a war. They did these things to bring people together who were sad about this loss of land.

Some people in Paris thought the people who marched through the streets on July 14, 1790, were just rioting. But they were wrong because what they did was in celebration of their homeland and their opponents.

When there were celebrations for this day, it made people happy, and more importantly, they felt unified with their country. Since 1880, France has had this holiday every year and it has been popular with French people ever since because they are proud to celebrate their national unity.

Bastille Day festivities

The capture of the Bastille symbolized the end of a really old way of life. It helped make things better for people in France. A king was not on their throne anymore.

Van Gogh painted Bastille Day twice. He first painted it in 1886 and then again in 1890. 

The first painting was full of red, white, and blue flags that represented the country’s freedom. The second painting showed the city hall at Auvers-sur-l’Oise where he had been treated for mental illness. In this painting, the colors of the flags and garlands are almost unnoticeable because they look so cool-toned.

Bastille Day: Today

On the 14th of July, people celebrate in France. They do this because they are proud of themselves and their country. 

Bastille Day is like the Fourth of July in America. It’s a public holiday. Celebrations include fireworks, parades, and parties. 

The French military parade is the oldest in the world. It has been happening since 1880 with French officials and world leaders. 

Eiffel Tower in Paris celebrating Bastille Day.

On July 14th, you can have a good time at the Eiffel Tower. The fireworks show is at 11 pm and it’s for 30 minutes. 

You can get on the Champ de Mars with a blanket and picnic, or go to one of the popular Firemen’s Balls. You can also cruise down the Seine river while you eat dinner and watch fireworks that are happening in other places around Paris. Many museums are open for this occasion.

The celebrations are all about France’s tricolor flag and the words “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.” Both are symbols of France from the French Revolution days.

La Marseillaise

They also sing the French anthem called La Marseillaise. Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed it. 

He was a soldier living in Strasbourg. He liked music and drama. When he heard that the French army might be invaded, he thought of a song to get people excited about defending their land. That night, he wrote lyrics for a song while playing his violin.

The song was written as a call to arms to fight. The words and melody were very powerful. The famous chorus says “Take up arms, citizens, form your battalions! March on, march on! Let’s water our fields with their impure blood.” 

It immediately fired the imagination of the people. It was first published and sung by a young volunteer, François Mireur, at a gathering in Marseille where the revolutionaries were preparing for a battle.

This song was a rallying song for the French Revolution. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was in charge of the empire, banned this song because it is about people who are fighting for their freedom. King Louis XVIII also banned this song when he came to power.

The song was not allowed to be sung during those times. But after a revolution in 1830, the song was again allowed and is still around today. It was declared as the national anthem on July 14, 1795, and made it France’s first anthem. 


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