Bastille Day celebrates the formation of the French republic and the overthrow of the French monarchy. This is traditionally symbolized by the storming of the Bastille (the Parisian prison) on July 14, 1789. While there were many reasons for the revolution, the most well known and emblematic is the excessive royal life that Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette led at the court of Versailles.
The pivotal moment that Bastille Day celebrates is the freeing of the prisoners from the Bastille. There were, in fact, very few prisoners in the Bastille at that time, so the significance of that event was more symbolic than actual. Each year, this holiday, much like our own July 4th, is celebrated with fireworks, parades, village festivals, huge Provencal markets, music and dances –and of course, the flying of the tri-color flag.
The tri color flag is a reflection of the motto of the French republic: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité — liberty, equality and brotherhood. This was one of several mottos used during the time of the revolution. The Fete Nationale (National holiday) is the largest annual celebration in France.
Paris attracts huge crowds for the celebration. Pedestrians and people picnicing fill every last space on every Seine river bridge, and along the banks of the Seine. They fill the parks around the Eiffel Tower as well. It is a party that begins in the morning with parades and goes late into the night with fireworks and public balls, live music.
As spectacular as Paris is, and as big as the celebration around the Eiffel tower is, I have to say that the countryside is even better. There you can see fireworks over 100o year old villages, experience festival markets and surround yourself with authentic ambiance in a way that is not possible in big cities (no matter how beautiful). The advice of Bliss Travels: Enjoy the best Medieval Provencal village or Mediterranean “fete” possible for this holiday. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and often feels like time stopped 500 years before you arrived.
There’s a reason every major impressionist and post impressionist painter traveled there to paint!
One of our favorite places to celebrate Bastille Day is St Remy, home of Van Gogh –and setting for many of his paintings. The celebrations here include markets, fireworks, bull fights, parades and music.
The markets wind through almost all of the streets of the old village. They fill every small square, and the periphery roads as well.
Vendors give out tastes of their products. A sure sign that they are proud of what they are selling. In addition, during the celebrations surrounding Bastille Day, there is music and street performers all over.
The bull fights that take place over the national holiday in France are a game during which the bulls are not hurt (though, often, the participants do suffer some injury). The game is called the “course camarguaise” and involves taking a rosette from the horn of the bull and getting away before the bull can hurt them. The participants leap over the wooden fence that surrounds the main area of the arena while their team mates distract the bull. There is also the herding of the bulls by the “cowboys” and the running of the bulls through the streets of the town. This is a major reason to celebrate Bastille Day in the South –these unique events simply don’t happen in Paris!
Herding the bulls through the town. The horsemen ride practically on top of each other to keep the bulls locked in their place. Their riding skill is amazing.
Along with the Camargue cowboys are parades on horseback with traditional dress.
The celebrations lead to group parties and meals –the Aioli is one of the most common (and best)!