Place de la Bastille. Plaza in Paris, France

Place de la Bastille

Plaza in Paris, France

Place de la Bastille Photo © David Merrett

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Place de la Bastille

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Colonne de Juillet - Place de la Bastille
Colonne de Juillet - Place de la Bastille. Photo by eLjeProks
The Place de la Bastille, “Bastille Square” in English, is a square in Paris and the former location of the notorious Bastille prison. The prison was a fortress built in the 14th century to protect the city gates. The Bastille prison was stormed on July 14, 1789, the day that marked the beginning of the French Revolution. It was completely destroyed in the following year and not a single stone remains nowadays. The square is now marked with a sign indicating where the former fortress stood; a few stones of the foundations are still visible in the Bastille subway station.

The square is bordered by three different arrondissements, the fourth, the eleventh, and the twelfth. The column that stands in the middle of the square, the July Column, commemorates the July Revolution (Wikipedia Article) and is a major landmark on the Place de la Bastille. Other important structures are the Bastille Opera, the Bastille subway station, and the Canal St. Martin.

Because of its historical significance the square is usually the starting point of demonstrations and protests.

place de la Bastille - Place de la
	Bastille
place de la Bastille. Photo by jean-louis Zimmermann

Place de la
	Bastille - Place de la Bastille
Place de la Bastille - Place de la Bastille. Photo by Veg A

History

After the French were defeated at Poitiers in 1356 during the Hundred Years' War (Wikipedia Article) with England, there was an urgent need for a fortress to protect Paris from invaders. King Charles V then had the Bastille built, construction taking place from 1370 until 1383. It was a nearly impregnable stronghold with 72-feet-high towers and walls of four meters thick.

Richelieu, the prime minister under King Louis XIII, converted the structure into a prison in the 17th century. The prison mainly held political prisoners, religious prisoners, and also writers. Most of the prisoners were enemies of the king. The only thing needed to arrest and incarcerate them was an order under the king’s seal. The prison quickly got a terrible reputation and became a symbol of the arbitrariness of the French monarchy and of autocratic cruelty. Despite its bad reputation, however, the Bastille prison actually had few inmates and treatment was better than in most prisons at the time. The most famous prisoners were people like Voltaire, Sade, and Fouquet.

On July 14, 1789, a crowd stormed the Bastille. At the time the prison only had seven inmates. The guards quickly surrendered and the inmates were freed. The capture of the Bastille prison was the start of the French Revolution and is still celebrated every day on Bastille Day, July 14 and the National Holiday of France. A couple of days later, the orders were given to take down the building. It was turned into a square celebrating liberty and a large fountain was built.

Later, Napoléon wanted to have a monument shaped as an elephant built there. The Elephant of the Bastille was eventually only built in plaster and demolished in 1846. Victor Hugo did immortalize the monument though, in his famous novel Les Misérables. The July Column was erected in 1833 and commemorates the 1830 revolution.

July column, place de la Bastille -
	Place de la Bastille
July column, place de la Bastille - Place de la Bastille. Photo by Eerko Vissering

Visiting the Place de la Bastille

The Place de la Bastille is now home to the Bastille Opera. This large opera building was officially opened on July 14, 1989, the bicentennial of the French Revolution. It has a capacity of 2,000 people and designed as a modern building, it contrasts greatly with the older surrounding buildings.

The former ditch behind the fortress is still there, but has been transformed into a little harbor for pleasure boats, the Bassin de l’Arsenal. The covered Canal St. Martin runs from that harbor towards the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad. The one landmark that’s left on the actual square is the July Column, which is 171 feet high and honors the 504 victims of the three-day revolution in 1830. The column is topped with the Spirit of Liberty Statue.

Thursdays and Sundays are markets days on the square. That is when a large, open-air market covers the northern part and vendors sell foods like cheeses, fresh fish, vegetables, and bread. The square is also the location of regular concerts and events, and the northeastern side is lined with restaurants, nightclubs, concert hall, bars, and cafés.

How to Get There

The Place de la Bastille has its very own subway station, which is the only place where some of the foundation stones of the former fortress are still visible. The subway station is called Bastille and can be reached on the M1, M5, and M8 lines.

Similar Landmarks

Paris is filled with many historic and cultural landmarks. Other major squares are the Place de la Concorde, Place Charles de Gaulle (Wikipedia Article) with the Arc de Triomphe, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, and Place de la République.

Additional landmarks and highlights include the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame de Paris; The Louvre, the Champs-Elysées; the Tuileries Garden, the Hôtel des Invalides; the Panthéon, and Pont Neuf.

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Author: bramreusen. Last updated: Jan 31, 2015

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