The Grand Bastille
Victor Hugo Les Miserable, Saint Denise book 6, chapter 2
The notorious Bastille of France, located
at No. 32 rue Saint-Antoineand, was for some time, except for
during the July uprising, open for the locals to come and converse
with the lingering guards (Schama 389). Eight thick columns five
feet thick towered above the people below, complementing the
many myths surrounding the fortress (389).
The Bastille was originally built for defense
purposes against the English at the end of the fourteenth century,
and then Charles VI turned it into a
The crimes of the criminals incarcerated ranged from conspirators against the crown to religious prisoners. They formed two classes of prisoners: seditious writers and troublemakers. One of the most famous prisoners of the Bastille was one of the great figures of the enlightenment: Voltaire, who was imprisoned, for his ideas on religious toleration.
Black and White painting Simon Schamas book citizen pg 389.
The cells of the prisoners were not as harsh
as those of other prisons of the time. At one point under Louis XVI, the cells were furnished with
thick green curtains and furnished with furniture. Games were
introduced later, along with lengthy visits from friends and
the "criminals" were even allowed to have pets to keep
themselves amused (Schama 388).
To many citizens of France, the Bastille symbolized royal absolutism. For this reason on July 14, 1789 the Bastille was surrounded by mobs of Parisian citizens demanding the release of the remaining political prisoners. However, the commander Marquis de Launay refused to give up and the mob stormed the Bastille. Inside the angry mob found only seven prisoners left and soon after the Bastille was torn down (Webster 435).
In 1880 July 14th was commemorated as Bastille
Day, the French national holiday, and is celebrated with fireworks
and parades. The storming of the Bastille and its eventual collapse
caused the monument to take on a new symbolism for the people
of Paris: one of national sovereignty and revolutionary tradition.