As required high school reading, many people are familiar with the infamous fortress that stood in the center of Paris for nearly four centuries, the Bastille. In Dickens’ much-loved novel, A Tale of Two Cities, the Defarges help storm the Bastille, which had been converted into a prison in the early 15th century (ironically, there were only seven prisoners housed in the Bastille at the time of the attack). On that day, July 14, 1789, a mob of working-class Frenchman, tired of economic oppression, famine, unfair taxation, and the ruling of King Louis XVI, converged on the fortress with two primary goals: to sack the building that had represented royal tyranny for so long and to confiscate the valuable weapons and gunpowder that were housed at the Bastille. The successful storming of the prison represented the beginning of the Revolution and eventual fall of the absolute monarchy.
Since 1880, July 14th has been celebrated as a national holiday in France, which represents the country’s independence and birth of the Republic. Bastille Day (referred to as La Fete de la Bastille or La Fete Nationale in French) is represented by a traditional military parade, the largest and oldest of its kind in Europe, on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees. A fireworks show near the Eiffel Tower, a themed costume and dance ball, and the opening of firehouses to the general public are just a few of the annual festivities that mark the occasion. The holiday also falls during the famous Tour de France bicycle race so French riders are particularly motivated to win the stage that falls on July 14th.