La fète nationale
Known and celebrated in other countries as Bastille Day, in France the 14th July is called ‘La fète nationale‘, which literally means National Day. It’s a public holiday and a day off for most of the population, including schools and businesses. There are large-scale public events, such as the military parade in Paris, and there are also lots of communal events – dances, parties and fireworks.
So why does everyone call it Bastille Day, and what is the significance of this date in French history?
The Bastille is a medieval fortress and prison in Paris. The French National Day on July 14th is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille in 1789.
Paris had become a scene of unrest and hostility. Crowds gathered outside the Bastille demanding the release of prisoners, and the removal of the cannons, rifles and gunpowder. Negotiations dragged on and rioting broke out. When gunfire started the crowd turned into a violent, angry mob. After several hours of fighting, Governor de Launay surrendered and the fortress liberated at 5.30 pm that evening.
The Storming of the Bastille is recognised as a pivotal event at the start of the French Revolution.
The ‘Fête de la Fédération‘ held on July 14, 1790 celebrated the changes brought about the revolution. In 1880 a politician called Benjamin Raspail, proposed that July 14 should become a holiday in France. The law passed and ‘Bastille Day’ became a public holiday for the first time on July 14, 1880.
Join in the festivities
At Bel-Air Gites, July is one of our busiest months, so it’s not always possible for us to go out and celebrate. We do encourage our visitors to take part in the festivities though. For the more spectacular ones, it’s better to drive out to La Rochelle, Royan or Cognac. Although these towns have larger crowds, they also have bigger firework displays and more activities.
In La Rochelle, for example, they celebrate France’s National Day with a variety of activities. There are food markets and live music, and after dark there is a firework display at the port.
There is a large military parade in Paris in the morning of July 14. Service men and women, the French Navy and the French Foreign Legion all participate in the parade. Military aircraft fly over and the French president gives a speech and reviews the troops. Thousands of people line the route all day.