The Bastille was a fortress-prison in Paris, known formally as Bastille Saint-Antoine—Number 232, Rue Saint-Antoine—best known today because of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, which along with the Tennis Court Oath is considered the beginning of the French Revolution. The event was commemorated one year later by the "Fête de la Fédération". The French national holiday, celebrated annually on 14 July is officially the "Fête Nationale", and officially commemorates the "Fête de la Fédération", but it is commonly known in English as Bastille Day. "Bastille" is a French word meaning "castle" or "stronghold", or "bastion"; used with a definite article ("la Bastille" in French, "the Bastille" in English), it refers to the prison.

Early history of the Bastille

The Bastille was built as the Bastion de Saint-Antoine during the Hundred Years' War. The Bastille originated as the Saint-Antoine gate, but from 1370-1383, this gate was extended to create a fortess, to defend the east end of Paris and the Hôtel Saint-Pol royal palace. After the war, it was reused as a state prison, with Louis XIII the first king to send prisoners there.

The Bastille was built as an irregular rectangle with 8 towers, 70 meters (220 ft.) long, 30 meters (90 ft) wide, with towers and walls 25 meters (80 ft) high, surrounded by a broad moat. Originally there were two courtyards inside and residential buildings against the walls. Pairs of towers on the east and west facades served as gates through which the rue Saint-Antoine passed. In the 1400s, these were blocked up, and a new city gate was created to the north on the present day rue de la Bastille. A bastion on the eastern approaches was built later. A significant military feature of the building was that the walls and towers were of the same height and width and connected by a broad terrace. This enabled soldiers on the wall head to rapidly move to a threatened sector of the fortress without having to descend inside the towers, as well as allowing placement of artillery. A similar provision can be seen today at Château de Tarascon.


The archives of the Bastille show that it largely held common criminals (forgers, embezzlers, swindlers, etc.), as well as people imprisoned for religious reasons (Protestants and Convulsionists) and those responsible for printing or writing forbidden pamphlets ["Archives de la Bastille" collected by francais Ravaisson Mollien, printed by Paris : A. Durand et Pedone-Lauriel, 1866-1904] . People of high rank were sometimes held there too, and so the prison (which could only hold a little over 50 people) was far less sordid a place than most of the Parisian prisons. Butthe secrecy maintained around the Bastille and its prisoners gave it a sinister reputation.

However the confrontation that led to the people of Paris storming the Bastille on 14 July 1789, following several days of disturbances, resulted from the fact that gunpowder and arms had been stored there, and the people (whose fears had been raised by a number of rumors) demanded access to these — the later idea that they wanted to free the prisoners (only 7 of whom remained) has been discounted. The regular garrison consisted of about 80 "invalides" (veteran soldiers no longer capable of service in the field) under Governor Bernard-René de Launay. They had however been reinforced by a detachment of 32 grenadiers from one of the Swiss mercenary regiments summoned to Paris by the King shortly before 14 July.

A crowd of around 1,000 people gathered outside around mid-morning, calling for the surrender of the prison, the removal of the guns and the release of the arms and gunpowder. Two people chosen to represent those gathered were invited into the fortress and slow negotiations began.

In the early afternoon, the crowd broke into the undefended outer courtyard and the chains on the drawbridge to the inner courtyard were cut. A spasmodic exchange of gunfire began; in mid-afternoon the crowd was reinforced by mutinous Gardes Françaises of the Royal Army and two cannons. De Launay ordered a ceasefire; despite his surrender demands being refused, he capitulated and the "vainqueurs" swept in to liberate the fortress at around 5:30.

When the rioters had entered the Bastille, they collected cartridges and gunpowder for their weapons and then freed the seven prisoners (which they had to do by breaking down the doors, since the keys had already been taken off and paraded through the streets). Later, the governor and some of the guards of the Bastille were killed under chaotic circumstances, despite having surrendered under a flag of truce, and their heads paraded on pikes.


The propaganda value of the Bastille was quickly seized upon, notably by the showy entrepreneur Pierre-François Palloy, "Patriote Palloy". The fate of the Bastille was uncertain, but Palloy was quick to establish a claim, organising a force of demolition men around the site on the 15th. Over the next few days many notables visited the Bastille and it seemed to be turning into a memorial. But Palloy secured a license for demolition from the Permanent Committee at the Hôtel de Ville and quickly took complete control.

Pierre-François Palloy secured a fair budget and his crew grew in number. He had control over all aspects of the work and the workers, even to the extent of having two hanged for murder. Palloy put much effort into continuing the site as a paying attraction and producing a huge range of souvenirs, including much of the rubble. The actual demolition proceeded apace — by November, 1789, the structure was largely demolished

The area today

The former location of the fort is currently called the Place de la Bastille. It is home to the Opéra Bastille. The large ditch "(fossé)" behind the fort has been transformed into a marina for pleasure boats, the Bassin de l'Arsenal, to the south, and a covered canal, the Canal Saint Martin, extending north from the marina beneath the vehicular roundabout that borders the location of the fort.

Some undemolished remains of one tower of the fort were discovered during excavation for the Métro (rail mass-transit system) in 1899, and were moved to a park a few hundred meters away, where they are displayed today. The original outline of the fort is also marked on the pavement of streets and sidewalks that pass over its former location, in the form of special paving stones. A cafe and some other businesses largely occupy the location of the fort, and the rue Saint Antoine passes directly over it as it opens onto the roundabout of the Bastille.

In fiction

*Comte de Rochefort ("The Three Musketeers", "Twenty Years After")
*Doctor Alexander Manette ("A Tale of Two Cities")
*Mr. Thénardier ("Les Miserables")
*In the Family Guy episode, Chitty Chitty Death Bang, Stewie refers to his mother's womb as an Ovarian Bastille.


*cite book
last = Lorentz
first = Phillipe
authorlink =
coauthors = Dany Sandron
title = Atlas de Paris au Moyen Âge
publisher = Parigramme
date = 2006
location = Paris
pages = 238 pp
url =
doi =
isbn = 2840964023

External links

* [,2.369034&spn=0.002978,0.006870&t=k&hl=en Satellite view of the "Place de la Bastille" place today] - NOTE: The actual Bastille was not at the current Place, but slightly to the west of it (left in the photo), right where the rue Saint-Antoine ends.
* [ Remains of the Bastille] - photo of the salvaged remains of one tower, with a brief description
* [ "À bas la Bastille!"] : how the "Encyclopædia Britannica" has written about the Bastille in various editions since 1768.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • bastille — [ bastij ] n. f. • 1370; altér. de bastide ♦ Au Moyen Âge, Ouvrage de fortification, château fort. Spécialt La Bastille : le château fort commencé à Paris sous Charles V et qui servit de prison d État (⇒ embastiller) avant d être pris par les… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • bastillé — bastille [ bastij ] n. f. • 1370; altér. de bastide ♦ Au Moyen Âge, Ouvrage de fortification, château fort. Spécialt La Bastille : le château fort commencé à Paris sous Charles V et qui servit de prison d État (⇒ embastiller) avant d être pris… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • bastille — or bastile [bas tēl′] n. [ME bastile & Fr bastille, both < OFr bastille, altered < bastide < bastida < fem. pp. of bastir, build, orig., make with bast: see BASTE1] 1. in ancient warfare, a tower for defense or attack; small fortress… …   English World dictionary

  • Bastille — («Бастий»)  праздничные торжества в Санкт Петербурге, посвящённые Дню взятия Бастилии. Проводятся ежегодно, на территории пляжа архитектурного ансамбля «Петропавловская крепость», садах и парках Санкт Петербурга. В рамках торжеств проводятся …   Википедия

  • bastille — BASTILLE. s. f. On appeloit ainsi autrefois un Château ayant plusieurs tours proche l une de l autre; et ce nom est demeuré long temps à un Château construit ainsi à Paris, par le Roi Charles V, et qui depuis son règne a servi de prison d État.… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • bastille — BASTILLE. s. f. (l s se prononce.) On appelloit ainsi autrefois Un chasteau ayant plusieurs tours ramassées proche l une de l autre; & ce nom est demeuré à un chasteau basti de cette maniere dans Paris. Il est prisonnier à la bastille. On dit… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • Bastille — (fr., spr. Bastillj), 1) mit Thürmen versehenes festes Schloß; bes. 2) das sonst zu Paris an der Porte St. Antoine gelegene, viereckige, feste Schloß, um 1370 von Aubriot gegen die Engländer begonnen, 1383 vollendet u. noch im 17. Jahrh. mit… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • bastillé — bastillé, ée (ba sti llé, llée, ll mouillées) adj. Terme de blason. Garni de créneaux renversés vers la pointe de l écu. HISTORIQUE    XVe s. •   Virent grand foison de naves, petites et grandes, bien bastillées, venir par devers Hainebon, FROISS …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • bastillé — BASTILLÉ, ÉE. adj. Il se dit en termes de Blason des pièces qui ont des créneaux renversés qui regardent la pointe de l écu. D argent au chef bastillé d or …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • Bastille — Nom porté dans les Deux Sèvres. Désigne celui qui est originaire d une localité appelée (la) Bastille (= ouvrage militaire isolé). Le toponyme est fréquent dans l Ouest, de la Normandie à la Charente. A noter en Vendée, où le nom de famille se… …   Noms de famille

  • Bastille — (izg. bastȉj) (Bastìlja) ž DEFINICIJA pov. srednjovjekovna tvrđava u istočnom Parizu; u 17. i 18. st. francuski državni zatvor, simbol despotizma bourbonske dinastije; jurišem, osvajanjem i rušenjem Bastille (14. 7. 1789) započela Francuska… …   Hrvatski jezični portal

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