It’s Not Called Bastille Day

It took me a while to figure out that the French do not say Bastille Day, nor even Fete de la Bastille. The French just looked at me blankly, waiting for me to say something coherent (some are still waiting…).   No, the French just call it Le quatorze juillet, aka July Fourteenth, in the same way we say The Fourth of July. 

As I often say, France is a misunderstood country and a misunderstood people. Bastille Day is just one good example. Here are a few factoids you might want to have under your chapeau on Saturday evening when everyone is talking about Bastille Day.

Nothing saddens tourists more than when they arrive at the magnificent Place de la Bastille and they find no prison. The prison is gone. Flattened, removed, stone by stone shortly after the much touted “storming” in 1789.  As for that storming, the guards opened the doors and let in the pitchfork wielding Parisians. By the way, the prison was basically empty, save a handful of odd captives.

The story continues.   Apparently Lafayette presented the key to the Bastille to George Washington and that it now resides at his home in Mount Vernon I like this story, rich in Franco-American glorious co-operation, but I am not convinced it’s real. Who gave Lafayette the key and how do we know it’s the real one?

Finally, perhaps the most interesting Bastille factoid of all: some people do not celebrate the day at all. They are royalists. For these people, July 14th symbolizes a violent end to their ancestors and a way of life. I remember clearly the day I learned that a friend is a royalist. I asked her how she would celebrate the day. Whoops. Moments like these keep us learning – very quickly.

If you can spare the time, watch the military parade on the Champs-Elysées. It will begin at 10am, Central European Time. If you can be here, watch the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Nothing beats either. You might be able to catch recaps on TV5Monde. The parade is all about the show and the pageantry. Nobody but nobody does pomp and circumstance better than the French and the flyover is spectacular. I’m sure President Macron will wear something extra spiffy. 

Happy Bastille Day! Er, I mean, Bonne Fete Nationale!


  • Alas, the student is instructing the teacher! Thank you for a very interesting lesson on Le quatorze juillet.

    Jean Welch
  • CYO! Thank you for the encouragement. It is so great having you along for the ride. Thank you for staying!

    James - LLA_Paris
  • Life Long Learning! Jim, thank you for leading me to learning more about Le quatorze julliet and Marquis de Lafayette today. I love learning and you make it a joyful journey!


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