Paris's "Bastille Saint-Antoine" was built (beginning in 1357) as a fortress to protect the Porte Saint-Antoine, a busy and important gate into the walled city. Before long, it became a location where kings would jail their enemies—people who opposed, contradicted or simply annoyed the monarch. Prisoners would be held on the whim of the king, without legal due process or right of appeal. Paris's seething masses soon began to view the Bastille as a despised symbol of monarchical absolutism. Besides prisoners, the Bastille was used to hold weapons and ammunition.
Fast forward to 14 July 1789. Paris was hot—literally and figuratively. And revolutionaries were ready to eliminate the king, even if they had to give their lives in the process. The revolutionaries also wanted to get their hands on the guns and gunpowder which was stored in the fortress. After an attempt to "negotiate" with the commander of the Bastille to hand-over the weapons, the angry mob stormed the fortress and eventually overpowered the guards and soldiers within.
To this day, France vigorously celebrates 14 July as a turning point in the Revolution and an on-going renunciation of despotic leadership. A major "Bastille Day" parade—complete with marching bands and displays of military might—proceeds down the Champs-Élysées while political leaders stand and inspect the troops and impressed guests look-on. Ignorant foreigners may interpret the display as a ratification of the French President's power. The French President knows: the parade is a reminder of what happens when a leader puts himself above the populace he governs.
The French Art Deco vase, above, was made by Pierrefonds in the 1920's or 1930's. Click on the photo to learn more about it.
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