Bastille Day in France is often compared to the 4th of July in America; both summer-fun outdoor holidays littered with explosions and patriotic fervor. It is the party of a revolution, and we love to root for the underdog.
Although the American Revolution of 1776 definitely inspired the French Revolution a decade later, the wars were not blood brothers. In the American Revolution, the power was traded from the rich British elite to the rich American elite, whereas the French Revolution saw the transfer of power go from the rich French elite to the poor French masses- well, the leaders of the poor French masses. It was a major upheaval of the status quo: churches were burned, statues were beheaded and an icon representing ‘FREEDOM’ was installed on the altar of Notre Dame in Paris. Heads rolled. And rolled, and rolled. The American Revolutionaries were absolutely terrified and prayed that this kind of Revolution did not find its way across the shores and implant in the American psyche.
Today in Paris stand the vestiges of this Revolution; practically the whole city is decorated with emblems of Libérté, Egalité, Fraternité: Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood.
La Bastille: The Bastille was an infamous prison for political prisoners like Voltaire and the Man in the Iron Mask and was stormed on July 14, 1789 to kick starts the French Revolution. Now only the outline of the hulking building remains, but you can attend an opera in the new, modern Opéra de la Bastille in its place.
Pont de la Concorde: This bridge across the Seine was built with the ruined stones of the Bastille, so that free people could forever trample the vestiges of tyranny. Trample ‘em, then take advantage of the viewing point of this bridge, one of the best places in Paris to get your bearings (and watch a pink sunset).
Palais Royale: This “secret” garden on the Right Bank is a courtyard hidden in bigger buildings, and this is where a man named Camille Desmoulins fomented the crowds and led the pissed-off everymen to the Bastille, which they promptly stormed.
Cours de Commerce Saint-Andre: This hidden alcove in the Saint-Germain neighborhood holds not only the oldest café in Paris but was where one Mr. Guillotin practiced his “humanitarian killing machine” on sheep. Once perfected, the machine was made female and put into practice, and La Guillotine was born.
Place de la Concorde: This massive open space on the west end of the Tuileries Garden is marked by a tall obelisk from the Egyptian Temple of Luxor and was the site of hundreds and hundreds of beheadings during the Revolution by Madame La Guillotine.
La Conciergerie on the Seine River was used to hold prisoners during the French Revolution including Marie Antoinette; the medieval building’s westernmost tower, “The Squealer,” was used for much worse- torture.
Le Louvre: The world’s most famous art museum started as a squat; the former royal palace was inhabited by homeless artists after the Revolution, and thus the collection began.
Les Catacombs: This underground ossuary holds the bones of many Revolutionaries, nobles and a mistress of King Louis XVI and stretches for miles under the city of Paris.