No doubt you have heard of the Bastille. This is the infamous square where the dreaded Bastille prison once stood. Nowadays all that is left here is a column.
It didn’t start as a prison, however. It was originally built as a fortress to protect Paris from the English armies during the Hundred Years’ War. Construction began in 1370. Instead of protecting the patrons of Paris, the Bastille ended up being used by competing factions of Frenchman such as the Burgundians and Armagnacs. It was also used during the religious wars that occurred during the 16th century.
In 1659, during the reign of Louis XIV, the Bastille was used as a state penitentiary. Since it was originally built to keep people out, it wasn’t the best at keeping people in. Most of the inmates were members of the upper class which upset the Sun King and thus, felt his wrath. However, conditions weren’t as you would expect for a prison at that time. They were quite nice. The Marquis de Sade (he was a lot… if you want to read some really crazy stuff, click here … good luck) brought his own wardrobe, artwork, perfumes, and even servants. “Inmates” played card games, drank wine, and even has a small library. There was no torture or mistreatment of prisoners… ever.
On July 14, 1789, 633 angry Frenchmen stormed the prison and captured its munitions, released 7 prisoners, lynched the governor, and demolished the building. The Bastille was a symbol of tyranny in those times so its destruction of it escalated into the French Revolution.
The column you now see in the center has nothing to do with the French Revolution of 1789. The Colonne de Juillet was erected on the exact location of the former prison to commemorate another revolution that took place in 1830. In this, July Revolution which only lasted three days, the French monarchy was overthrown.
King Charles X abdicated the throne on August 2, 1830, and a constitutional monarchy was established. The column stands as a memorial to those who took part in the overthrow. Names of the Parisians who perished during this revolution are engraved in gold on the column. The god Mercury is at the top astride a golden globe.
Each July 14th the French celebrate the storming of the Bastille prison with fireworks and parades. The main parade starts at the Arc de Triomphe and follows a route along the Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde.
Today, Place de la Bastille is usually the center of any kind of political action such as demonstrations, protests, speeches, and political rallies.
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