Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Bastille

A 1552 map depicting the Bastille
Yesterday was Bastille Day, the anniversary of French peasants storming the Bastille to release prisoners as part of the French Revolution. The Bastille existed long before it became a symbol for overthrowing aristocratic oppression, however.

The name is from a Provençal bastir, meaning "to build"; its full name is the Bastille Saint-Antoine because it was placed at the Port of Saint Antoine on the east side of Paris. It was begun in 1357 in order to have a defense against invading Englishmen during the Hundred Years War, the 116-year conflict from 1337 to 1453 caused by English kings asserting their "right" to chunks of France. Two towers were built.

The first phase of the Hundred Years War ended in 1360, however, with the Treaty of Brétigny between Edward III of England and Philip VI of France, so construction largely stopped. When Charles V of France decided to start the war up again in 1370, construction resumed, producing 3 more pairs of towers for defense. It was completed by his son, Charles VI, years later. The result was a rectangle 223 feet by 121 feet, with 78-foot towers and walls creating a walkway around the entire perimeter. Six of the towers had dungeons at their base. Charles V moved his royal apartments closer to the Bastille, since it was one of the safest places to be in Paris in case of an attack.

It was turned into a prison in 1417.

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