Because it was Bastille day recently, Lisa and I set out to see what was left of the Bastille. When we arrived at Place de la Bastille we found this tower and no trace of the old prison. So here is the story…Within hours of its capture, the Bastille began to be used as a powerful symbol to give legitimacy to the Revolutionary movement in France. It was stormed by a crowd on 14 July 1789 in the French Revolution, becoming an important symbol for the French Republican movement, and was later demolished and replaced by the Place de la Bastille.
The July Column is a monument to the Revolution of 1830. It stands in the center of the Place de la Bastille (where the Bastille used to stand), in Paris, to commemorate the Trois Glorieuses, the “three glorious” days in July 1830 that saw the fall of Charles X of France and the commencement of the “July Monarchy” of Louis-Philippe, the first constitutional monarchy of France. The July Column itself remained contentious and Republican radicals unsuccessfully tried to blow it up in 1871.
The Colonne de Juillet (July Column) is composed of twenty-one cast bronze drums, weighing over 163,000 pounds, it is 154 feet high, containing an interior spiral staircase, and rests on a base of white marble. On the top, a gilded globe, on which stands a colossal gilded figure, Auguste Dumont’s Génie de la Liberté (the “Spirit of Freedom”). Perched on one foot in the manner of Giambologna’s Mercury, the star-crowned nude brandishes the torch of civilisation and the remains of his broken chains.
In the foundation, a columbarium was arranged to receive the remains of 615 victims of the July Revolution. A further 200 victims of the Revolution of 1848 were later interred in the space; the throne of Charles X was symbolically burned in the square, February 1848. As seen above, the names of those who died are engraved in gold on the column, organized by the three days.
Unlike the American revolution, which was a relatively short lived war resulting in a clean break from Britain, French revolutions went on for most of the nineteenth century. Many significant events in these “revolutions” occurred at the old site of the Bastille or were commemorated there. In June of 1792, the area occupied by the Bastille was turned into a square celebrating liberty, and they decided to build a column there. (it didn’t get built) A fountain was built in 1793. In 1808, as part of several urban improvement projects for Paris, Napoléon planned to have a huge monument in the shape of an elephant built here, the Elephant of the Bastille, to be cast from the bronze of cannons taken from the Spanish. (it didn’t happen). In 1833, Louis-Philippe decided to build the July Column as originally planned in 1792. However this column memorialized the coup which also took place in July (1830), in which a constitutional monarchy was established under Louis-Phillipe I. The famous painting seen above by Delecroix, “Liberty Leading the People”, was done in 1830 to commemorate the “three glorious days”. The column was also the scene of the last desperate stand of the Communards in 1871.
At first the Revolutionary movement in 1789 was uncertain whether to destroy the prison, to reoccupy it as a fortress with members of the volunteer guard militia, or to preserve it intact as a permanent Revolutionary monument. The Revolutionary leader Mireabeau eventually settled the matter by symbolically starting the destruction of the battlements himself, who surprisingly was moved out of the Pantheon for trying to establish a constitutional monarchy. A panel of five experts were appointed by the Permanent Committee of the Hôtel de Ville to manage the demolition of the castle. One of these experts was Pierre-François Palloy, an entrepreneur who rapidly assumed control over the entire process, and made a little money selling souveners of the Bastille fashioned from the actual stones as seen above from Wikipedia. Palloy’s products, which he called “relics of freedom”, celebrated the national unity that the events of July 1789 had generated across all classes of French citizen, and included a very wide range of items. There really is nothing left of the original Bastille, the Pont de la Concorde contains stones reused from the Bastille. The key to the Bastille was given to George Washington in 1790 by Lafayette and is displayed in the historic house of Mount Vernon. During the excavations for the Métro underground train system in 1899, the foundations of the Liberté Tower were uncovered and moved to the corner of the Boulevard Henri IV and the Quai de Celestins, where they can still be seen today.
The former location of the fort is currently called the Place de la Bastille. It is home to the Opéra Bastille. L’Opéra Bastille is a modern opera house in Paris, France. It is the home base of the Opéra national de Paris and was designed to replace the Palais Garnier, which is nowadays mainly used for ballet performances. The building was inaugurated on July 13, 1989, the eve of the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, with a gala concert conducted by Georges Prêtre and featuring singers such as Teresa Berganza and Plácido Domingo. However, it did not see its first opera performance until March 17, 1990, with Berlioz’ Les Troyens, directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi. The building looks very modern and it’s lobbies have been compared to airport lounges. The acoustics have been described as disappointing at best.
The opera house replaced an earlier train station, “Gare de Bastile”, built in 1859. The metro station has some painted tiles, reminding us of the history of this place.
The storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 had been celebrated annually since 1790, initially through quasi-religious rituals, and then later during the Revolution with grand, secular events including the burning of replica Bastilles. Under Napoleon the events became less revolutionary, focusing instead on military parades and national unity in the face of foreign threats. When the moderate Republican Jules Grévy became president in 1879, his new government turned the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille into a national holiday as it remains today.
There are four lessons to be learned from this post: one, there is no longer a Bastille, two, the July Column has nothing to do with the Bastille, three, the French had a lot of revolutions and four, don’t go to an opera at the L’Opéra Bastille. I just returned today from the Palais Garnier and will be doing a post on this fabulous building soon.