Thursday, July 14, 2011

Joyeux 14 Juillet France!

Today the French celebrate their national holiday - the 14 Juillet - which is also known as the Bastille Day.

This holiday commemorates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution.

The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis XVI’s regime. By capturing this symbol, the people signaled that the king’s power was no longer absolute: power should be based on the nation and be limited by a separation of powers.

Although the Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens; like the Tricolore flag, it symbolized the Republic’s three ideals: Liberté, égalité, fraternité for all French citizens. It marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign nation, and, eventually, the creation of the First Republic, in 1792. 

For a century, the day of July 14 was not given special attention. It truly became a national holiday in 1880, under the Third Republic, at Benjamin Raspail’s recommendation. The celebration was meant to help shape a new national image, around the republican symbol. Under the draft law put forth by Raspail and passed by the National Assembly, Bastille Day officially became the symbol of the birth of the Republic.

The day is generally celebrated with all sorts of festivities and ceremonies all over France. But the flagship event of the celebration is the military parade held on the morning of July 14, on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris. Being first held in 1880, this is the oldest and largest regular military parade in the world and a highly popular event in France, being broadcast on TV every year. The parade passes down the Champs-Elysées from l’Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde where the President of the French Republic, his government and foreign ambassadors stand. In some years, invited detachments of foreign troops take part in the parade and foreign statesmen attend as guests.

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