The Place de la Bastille is THE symbol of the French Revolution and it holds an important place in the History of France. Discover its story!
In 1370, Charles V – who wants to be safe from outer attacks – has a massive fortress built in lieu of a fortified door and a small fortress. It’s named the Forteresse de la Bastille. Over the centuries and the sovereigns, the fortress changes its use: it becomes a gun room, a reception hall under reign of Francis I and then the vault of the royal treasure under Henri IV. But it’s Cardinal de Richelieu, under Louis XIII’s reign, who gives it’s the use we all know: a state prison in which are locked all the king’s and the regime opponents. Among the most famous residents: Voltaire, Montaigne, Beaumarchais and the Marquis de Sade!
Luckily, the French Revolution arrives, and the storming of the Bastille is seen as the first revolutionary act. On July 14, 1789, this symbol of the royal power of the Ancient Regime is under siege and destroyed stone by stone. From this building, there’s nothing left now. The only marks of the past are found on the ground, a triple row of cobblestones marking out the former setting. The stones taken away from the Bastille rubble were used to build the Pont de la Concorde. In 1794, a guillotine has been set for a few months on the new Place de la Bastille but has been quickly moved to the Place de la Nation following a request from the people.
By the way, to speak about more joyful things, did you know that on July 14, 1790 it was on the Place de la Bastille that the first ball has been held? A French tradition still lasting today!
In 1803, the famous 46-m high July Column is erected in the middle. This beautiful column topped with a gilded bronze statue called Le Génie de la Liberté [The Genius of Liberty] is inaugurated in 1840 in remembrance of the fallen people of the French Revolution of 1830. Yet, Napoléon had another plan in mind. He wanted a 24-m high bronze elephant to be sculpted and put in the center of the square. But the project never made it, it remained a model. What a shame!
For the story, like its stooge, the Vendôme column, during the Paris Commune, revolutionaries tried to destroy the July Column. They went under the Place de la Bastille, at the exact spot where the Canal Saint-Martin flows and set fire to petroleum. But despite huge flames and bombs shot from the Pont d’Austerlitz and the Buttes Chaumont, the July Column remained untouched and stood still!
One of the iconic monuments of the Place de la Bastille is of course the Bastille Opera. Inaugurated in 1989, this modern building has been built by Carlos Ott in lieu of the former Bastille railway station.
Today, the Place de la Bastille is used as a place for popular gatherings of young Parisians at nighttime, on the cafés and brasseries terraces, as well as the perfect spot for political meetings, parades, citizen demonstrations, concerts, markets… festivities in line of the ones held in the Arènes Nationales, a large venue for open-air shows inaugurated in 1851!
Note that the July Column, closed to visitors in 1985 is said to reopen very soon! While you wait to visit it, you can always try the 3D Timescope terminal set at the corner of Boulevard Richard Lenoir. For barely €2, you can discover pictures of the Place de la Bastille in the 15th century! What a travel in time!
Place de la Bastille
75011 Paris 11