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What is the history behind Bastille Day?
The origins of July 14th as a national holiday trace back to the French Revolution, which erupted on July 14, 1789, with the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris and subsequent freeing of the prisoners.
This symbolic act by the French people against the oppressive monarchy became a turning point in their fight for liberty, equality, and fraternity - the motto of the revolution. The fall of the Bastille marked the triumph of the revolutionaries and laid the foundation for the transformation of France's political and social landscape.
Following the storming of the Bastille, July 14th quickly gained significance as an annual fete. In 1880, the French government officially recognized the date as the national holiday, known as "Fête nationale" or "Le Quatorze Juillet" (the fourteenth of July).
The video below covers the story succinctly and more completely than I ever could, although, as with many historical events, it is not wholly suitable for young children.
As well as being a bank holiday, celebrations commemorating the revolution take place throughout France on the 14th of July, often with festive military parades, fireworks and live entertainment - all of which are family-friendly and free! The festivities aim to honor the revolutionaries' courage and sacrifice while fostering a sense of national unity and pride among the French population.
Champagne at the ready...read on for the best ways to enjoy the fireworks and celebrate this national summer festival in the south of France.
Paris on Bastille Day
The grandest of the Bastille Day celebrations takes place where it all began - in the capital Paris, Ile de France.
A patriotic military parade along the Champs-Élysées showcases France's military strength, featuring displays of soldiers, weaponry and aircraft - while the President inspects the troops and the AirForce fly overhead. This is followed by a full-orchestra classical concert on the Champ de Mars in front of the iconic Eiffel Tower.
The whole thing is concluded with the Eiffel Tower serving as the backdrop for a dazzling fireworks display from 11pm. The Champ de Mars lawn is a great place to take in the show. Alternatively you can walk to the Trocadero just across the Seine, or indeed any of the quais and bridges of the Seine offer a great view. Remember many metro lines are closed on this national holiday - you can find out about specific lines here.
In between the military parade and fireworks you may want to kick back with a croissant, or you could visit other sights in the Ile de France area. Being a bank holiday, most shops and restaurants outside of the tourist circuit are closed but the big museums and galleries like the Chateau de Versaille, le Grand Palais and Musée D'Orsay are open (they charge entrance but it's worth noting the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of the month).
A dinner cruise along the Seine is also a great option for a more personal setting offering several courses and wine overlooking the whole spectacular event.
Images below from left to right: MAL LANGSDON/REUTERS, @gogojungle, Lucas Barioulet/AFP
The five best ways to celebrate Bastille Day in the South of France
Looking to make the most of the bank holiday with a long weekend in the south this summer? Most of the major celebrations are free on this popular public holiday, but be sure to check availability online if you would like to visit ticketed events.
Experience a perfect blend of history, culture and natural beauty as you explore this region with our big top 5 for the 14th of July:
1. Military parade in Marseille: Experience the grandeur of the Bastille Day military parade in the historic city of Marseille. The Vieux-Port is transformed into a stage for a captivating display of military precision from 5 p.m. onwards. Nearly 900 soldiers, 8 fighter jets and naval units demonstrate their skills in a tribute to the country's armed forces and their role in preserving national unity. The obligatory fireworks display takes place at 10.30pm.
2. Fêtes de la rue d'Aix-en-Provence: Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of Aix-en-Provence, renowned for its charming streets and vibrant art scene. On Bastille Day, a ballet is organized for the evening at the top of the Cours Mirabeau and, of course, the fireworks are set off at 11 pm. Bastille Day falls in the middle of the city's festival, which runs from the 4th to the 24th.
3.Bastille Day fireworks in Nice: Nice's spectacular fireworks display once lit up the night sky above the Promenade des Anglais. Cheerful seaside crowds marveled at the breathtaking colors and patterns, accompanied by musical performances. This year, the fireworks will be fired in tribute to the victims of the 2016 tragedy, on the evening of the 13th. A day of tribute will be held on the 14th.
4. Carcassonne Medieval Festival: Step back in time in the medieval city of Carcassonne, a UNESCO World Heritage Site! On July 14, the town hosts an exciting medieval festival, with jousting tournaments, costumed processions and theatrical performances. Immerse yourself in the region's rich history by exploring the ancient fortifications, visiting the castle and enjoying medieval-inspired cuisine. This year (2023), a concert by Guy Lacroux will take place at 6 p.m. in the Place Carnot. Fireworks start at 10.30pm - this year's theme is the "star city" - and a concert of Beatles hits by WISEM begins at 11pm.
5. Beach parties in Cannes: Celebrate Bastille Day with a touch of glamour in the famous city of Cannes. Every summer, Cannes adds a new dimension to the nation's obsession with fireworks by hosting the Fireworks Festival, which pits the world's best pyrotechnic companies against each other. Starting at 10 p.m. on the set dates, they offer tourists and locals alike the chance to witness a magnificent fireworks display fired from the Bay of Cannes. The colors are reflected in the water, adding an even more magical dimension to the spectacle. On July 14, 2023, Northstar Fireworks (Norway) will present a dramatic three-part pyromusical show, based on Dante's classic work The Divine Comedy. Other dates include: July 21: Rozzi (USA), July 29: Jost (Austria), August 8: Lux Factory (France), August 15: Grand Final (France), August 24: Sugyp (Switzerland).
What activities are there to do in Montpellier on Bastille Day?
Festivities start on the evening of the 13th of July, which is no bad thing as it avoids the scorching hot summer afternoons. In 2023 this will include the traditional 'prise d'armes' (taking up of arms) in the Place royale du Peyrou at 7pm followed by a brass band procession at 9.30pm to l'esplanade de Peyrou. It'll be followed by a speech from the mayor and children's shows from 10.30pm based around the theme of La Marseillaise.
On the evening of the 14th of July 2023, there will be a concert from the Montpellier Occitanie Orchestra from 9pm on Place Georges Freche and the Firemans' Ball and fireworks show at Georges Charpak park from 10pm.
You can find the city hall's agenda here.
Not up for heaving crowds in the city? Come see the fireworks in the surrounding area! Other notable firework displays on the 13th of July are - Parc Du Château in Castries; Le lac du Crès; the town hall of Castelnau le Lez; Lattes, Vasque de Port Ariane; Carnon.
There are often food trucks, but if you want to avoid the queues at these popular events take your own picnic, lawn chairs or blanket and be sure to arrive early to avoid crowds and parking stress. Be aware that barbecues are frowned upon as the heat and scrub at this time of the year can lead to fires.
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