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The Bastille

INTRODUCTION

The Bastille, formerly a prison known as Bastille Saint Antoine, is best known for the peasant revolt that started the now infamous French Revolution, in 1789. The monumental event that changed the course of French history is celebrated every July 14.

HISTORY

The Bastille began as a fortified gate, constructed during the early years of the Hundred Years War (1337 through 1453) under the commission of King Charles V.

The Bastion Saint Antoine, as it was then called, was expanded, and by the end of the 14th century had become a fortified castle of war. Following the war, the Defender of Paris officially became a prison.

It remained a prison until July 14, 1789, when the former castle became an eternal symbol of royal oppression. At the time, only seven prisoners were held in the Bastille, and the most famous of all its prisoners, the infamous Marquis De Sade, had been transferred to an asylum for complaining of the conditions.

The fortress was invaded by peasants hoping to acquire arms and munitions, and a large crowd gathered outside calling for its surrender. After a short lived but violent gunfight, the French governor ordered a complete cease fire. The forces occupying the Bastille surrendered, and the governor executed.

The storming of the Bastille led to mass panic, and confusion ruled the streets of Paris. Before long, the nation was in the throes of revolution.

The Bastille was torn down in the late 1780s, even though the site had become something of a national attraction. So many visitors had begun visiting the site that Pierre Palloy, mastermind behind the demolition effort, began charging an entrance admission and producing novelty souvenirs, even going so far as to sell off pieces of rubble from the crumbled remains.

In 1792, in an effort to unite and inspire nationals, the grounds of the Bastille were renovated, creating a large public square now called Place de la Bastille.

In 1825, a large canal was dug, taking water from the River Seine, under order from Napoleon. The canal has become a minor tourist attraction.

In 1831, Place de la Bastille received the first stone in a national monument celebrating the 1830 Revolution and fall of King Charles X, constructed in the center of the square. The 154 foot tall July Column houses a spiral staircase and is topped with a viewing deck. In 1858, the Paris metro rail line came to the Bastille, with the construction of Gare de La Bastille. The station would operate for more than one hundred years.

At the end of 1969, the Bastille station was closed and converted into an art gallery. Regular art expositions were held in the former station until it was finally torn down in the early 1980s to make room for a new and expansive national opera house.

IN 1984, construction began on the Opera Bastille, now home to the Opera national de Paris. In the early 1980s, a national competition was held to find a suitable design for the opera house, which opened on July 14, 1989, 200 years after the storming of the Bastille.

Today, little remains of the eight towers that comprised the castle prison. Some remnants of one of the towers were discovered during the 1899 construction of the Paris metro system, and now stand proudly near by the original site. The original grounds of the castle complex are outlined in the pavement, showing visitors where the monument once stood, a spot now occupied by some businesses and a small café.


 
 
 
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