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PLACE DE LA BASTILLE : A PRISON, A REVOLUTION AND A BICENTENNIAL

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The Bastion de Sainte-Antoine was built in the 1300’s as a fortress, protecting the city of Paris from invasion, but its conversion into a prison, sealed its fate. The Bastille, as it was renamed, was built in the shape of a rectangle, with eight towers, and walls 80 feet high, surrounded by a moat.

The walls and towers were of equal height, which made it easily defensible, as soldiers could quickly move from one position to another, with their artillery. By the 1700’s La Bastille, whose dungeons were dank and vermin-infested, was mainly used to contain political activists, religious dissenters, and naughty aristocrats, who were quartered upstairs.

On July 14th, 1789, as the tide of the French Revolution began to sweep over the country, an angry mob of about a thousand, descended upon the Bastille, eager to acquire the storehouse of weapons and gunpowder within. It was inconsequential that the seven prisoners in residence were freed. It was significant that entry was gained, casualties were inflicted upon the Invalides, the retired soldiers who sought to defend the prison, and that the symbol of monarchical repression was going down. And down it came, stone by stone. That event, known as “The Storming of the Bastille” was just the precursor to the increasingly bloody revolution, culminating in the September Massacres of 1792.

But in a way, you could say that the Bastille has been recycled, for the bridge across the Seine, called the Pont de la Concorde, was built with stone recovered from the demolition of the prison. And somehow, the weighty steel keys to the Bastille have managed to find their way into the Musee Carnavalet in the Marais.

So the site of the old fortress became a square and the square acquired a monument in 1840, the Colonne de Juillet.


Around the square cafes sprung up and then one of the most vibrant open air food markets took root here, the Marche Bastille. On the 200th anniversary of the storming, Francois Mitterand unveiled his Opera de la Bastille, and today, on the large metropolitan square, only a handful of patrons, sitting on the terrace of le Café Francais could tell you about the paving stones. What paving stones? The line of stones which were laid between#5 and #49 Boulevard Henri IV. They trace the exact location of the prison towers and are the only vestiges of a turbulent past.

America has its Fourth of July. France celebrates Bastille Day every July Fourteenth.

PLACE DE LA BASTILLE
Straddling the 4th , 11th, and 12th Arrondissements
Metro: Bastille



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