Place de la Bastille

Place de la Bastille (71)

The prison of the Bastille was one of the key settings of the French Revolution. In fact, it is thought that the storming of the prison by revolutionaries was the catalyst that sparked the whole process.

The Saint Antoine gateway was one of the entrances to the city. Between 1370 and 1383 a fortress was built around it in order to protect the gateway. The building gradually grew in size and at its moment of splendour had eight towers and a moat.

Later on the fortress lost its military and defensive character. François I used the building as a treasury as well as holding royal receptions there. Finally, it was Cardinal Richelieu who once again changed the use of the building for rather more grizzly purposes. The fortress was filled with metal bars to become a prison. People who were considered oppositionists and possible enemies of the king were sent there. It just needed a simple royal order for someone to be imprisoned in the Bastille.

The Bastille represented the king and his repressive strength, something that in the eyes of the Parisians was a hated place. It was the symbol of the tyrannical power of the king more than just being a prison. Among its most notable guests were Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade and the person known as the Man in the Iron Mask, who Dumas turned into a character from a novel.

It has always been considered that the storming of the Bastille by the people was the beginning of the Revolution on the 14th of July 1789. The Parisians had already taken Les Invalides and there they had armed themselves. Their next stop was the Bastille, since that was where the gunpowder was stored. Despite being converted into a myth, the actual storming of the Bastille was not really a heroic act. Although the attack cost the lives of 100 people and another 73 injured, only seven common prisoners were freed from the prison. It was, however, a very symbolic event, since it served to express the discontent of the people with the monarchy and their despotism. Two days later it was decided to knock down the prison.

Some stones were used for the construction of the Pont de la Concorde and with others they made models of the Bastille which they sold as souvenirs. Today, the only remains are part of the foundations, which can be seen in the Bastille metro station, as well as a row of cobblestones from the old towers from numbers 5 to 49 of Boulevard Henri IV.

The idea of creating a square and building a column in honour of freedom on the spot where the prison had stood arose in 1792. To start with, the project remained as just an idea. In 1808 Napoleon proposed the construction of a large fountain with a massive bronze elephant. To see the effect, he had a piece built in plaster. The profusely decorated elephant was 24 metres high and 16 metres long and stayed there until it was demolished in 1847. If you know the work Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, you will be pleased to know that the street urchin Gavroche used it as his hideaway.

The column that you can see is in memory of the fallen during the Three Glorious Days of the Revolution of July 1830, which caused the downfall of the monarchy. The monument was built between 1833 and 1840 and would become known as the July Column. 

The bronze column measures 52 metres in height and was inspired by Trajan’s column in Rome, is the work of Duc and is crowned by a gilded figure, The Spirit of Freedom, by Drumont and which symbolises, naturally, freedom. In its hands it carries a broken chain and a flaming torch. At the base of the column, there are two pantheons where the remains rest of the 504 victims of the revolutions of July 1830 and February 1848.

With the commemoration of the bicentenary of the Revolution in 1989 the Bastille Opera was opened in the square. 

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website