Our Blog - Bastille Day Fireworks 2017 Blog

I use the "English" name for the holiday ... Bastille Day. The French never use that term .. it is normally just le 14 juillet (the 14th of July) or la Fête nationale (the national festival). It actually celebrates two separate events, 1 year apart. Originally built to defend Paris from the English threat in the 14th century, it was turned into a prison during the 15th century. King Louis XIV used the Bastille as a prison for upper-class members of French society who had opposed or angered him (versus just criminals). Under King Louis XV and XVI, it held prisoners from a variety of backgrounds, especially those that were rounded up to enforce censorship of the printed media. Although the prison had relatively good conditions, criticism of the prison grew during the 18th century when several former prisoners wrote autobiographies and articulated the conditions and treatment while imprisoned.

By July 1789, revolutionary sentiment was rising in Paris and King Louis XVI was becoming very unpopular. The Bastille, already hugely unpopular with the revolutionary crowds, was now the only remaining royalist stronghold in central Paris. On the morning of the 14th, people started forming outside it and began negotiating with the head of the prison to get the gunpowder and guns that were stored inside. He refused and was trying to determine his options while the revolutionaries attempted to destroy the main gate. He then attempted to negotiate a surrender but before that could happen, the drawbridge came down and the crowd stormed in.

One year later, July 14th, 1790, France celebrated the unity of the French nation with the Fête de la Fédération. It wasn't made a yearly national holiday until 1880. There are celebrations throughout France, the largest (and best) being in Paris with a military parade during the day and fireworks at night. There was a small parade in Toulouse (that we didn't go to) but we made our way to the Garonne for the fireworks. For this first year, we took a place on the Pont Saint Pierre (the Saint Pierre bridge) and watched the fireworks over the Pont Neuf (New Bridge) and the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Jacques (literally the hostel of God, which is a former hospital dating back to the 12th century). Next time, I think we want to be between Pont Neuf and Pont Saint Michel (the next bridge up the river) and I think that may be a better place.

They have a huge Ferris wheel setup on the St. Cyprien side of the river. I also grabbed just a few pictures of the river and the crowds as they were building. These were taken about 9:45pm or so (fireworks to start at 10:30pm although they ended up being just a little late).

This picture is just before the fireworks started and you can see the colored lights underneath the arches of Pont Neuf, making the French tri-color flag with blue (on the right), white (in the middle), and red (on the left).

I'm not going to do any more commentary on these ... we took lots of pictures (some better than others) for about the first 3-4 minutes and then I put the phone away and just watched and enjoyed. It was a REALLY GOOD display!!! They had 3 different barges parked in the middle of the Garonne which seemed to shoot the same fireworks at almost the exact same time, so we could basically see 3 of everything! There were a few that were a bit too low for us to see really well over the building (hence the comment about moving a bit more up-river next time). It went on for about 25 minutes, which I thought was a pretty long display.