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The Bastille in the first days of its destruction, oil painting by Hubert Robert (1733–1808)

The Bastille ( French for 'small bastion ') was originally a specially fortified city ​​gate castle in the east of Paris , which was later used as a state prison. The storming of the Bastille on July 14th 1789 is interpreted as the symbolic prelude and birth of the French Revolution .


Construction and architecture

The Bastille as part of the Paris city fortifications ( Viollet-le-Duc )

It was built as Bastion de Saint-Antoine or Bastille Saint-Antoine in the 14th century under King Charles V by Hugues Aubriot (laying of the foundation stone on April 22, 1370, finished in March 1383) as a fortified eastern gate and as a cornerstone of the fortifications of the Capital against attacks by English troops roaming France during the Hundred Years War .

The Bastille had eight tin towers with their own names: Field side from north to south: corner tower (tour du Coin), chapel tower (tour de la Chapelle), treasure tower (tour du Trésor), county tower (tour de la Comté); City side from north to south: Fountain Tower (tour du Puits), Freedom Tower (tour de la Liberté), Bertaudièreturm (tour de la Bertaudière), Basinièreturm (tour de la Basinière). Between the Basinièreturm and Grafschaftsturm was the entrance with a drawbridge to the south. The walled-up former city ​​gate could be seen between the chapel tower and the treasure tower . The building also had a fortress dig , which was filled with water.

State prison

Since the time of Louis XIII. (1st half of the 17th century) it served as a state prison with 80 dungeons, some of them underground. Famous prisoners in 1717/1718 and 1726 included the writer Voltaire and 1784–1789 the Marquis de Sade .

One of the most interesting documents from the inner workings of the Bastille is René Auguste Constantin de Renneville's report Inquisition Françoise , published in 1715, about his eleven years imprisonment. Renneville describes in detail different cells and the different conditions of detention depending on status and solvency. The prisoners received a king's pension - money that the guards used to run errands. The prison itself operated as a commercial enterprise leased by the state. If prisoners became impoverished or were no longer supported by their families after prolonged detention, they were placed in cells that were located ever lower down. The most inhumane conditions were found in the cellars. Imprisonment in the Bastille was feared as it was associated with deprivation of the public. A greater chance to defend themselves and the outside world to advertise sympathies were offenders on pillory .

The report of a spectacular escape from the Bastille, which appeared in 1719 as Événement des plus rares (German in the same year as The so-called Hell of the Living ) , is sometimes attributed to Anne-Marguerite Petit du Noyer .

The storming of the Bastille in 1789

With the meeting of the Estates General on May 5, 1789, the Ballhaus oath of the representatives of the Third Estate on June 20 and the establishment of a constituent national assembly, the Constituent Assembly , on July 9, important events had taken place at the beginning of the French Revolution . With the dismissal of the popular finance minister Jacques Necker on July 12th, the population was concerned that the development could come to a standstill or be reversed. The first unrest and the gathering of weapons broke out.

On July 14th, a crowd gathered in front of the Bastille to get to the weapons that were also stored there. The commandant Bernard-René Jordan de Launay opened fire, 90 people were killed. When the crowd drew up again later and with stronger armament, the guards surrendered and the Bastille was stormed. The commandant and two other people were killed, their heads carried through the streets on pitchforks to cheers.

The storm on the Bastille, watercolor by Jean-Pierre Louis Laurent Houël (1735-1813)

Although no significant prisoners were freed and the military significance of the victory over the guards consisting of veterans and invalids was minor, the storming of the Bastille was subsequently transformed into a myth and a decisive event, which is probably due to the highly symbolic effect of a first victory is due to a fortification of despotism. The French national holiday on July 14th commemorates the storming of the Bastille.


Pierre-François Palloy
One of the models of the Bastille ( Carnavalet Museum )

Under the direction of the building contractor Pierre-François Palloy (1755-1835), the demolition of the fortress began just two days after the storm, on July 16, 1789, as a symbol of the Ancien Régime , which lasted until October 1790. Only a 50 centimeter high wall remnant was left, which was later completely removed.

He had detailed models of the former prison carved from stones from the Bastille, which were then delivered to the 83 new departmental capitals and inaugurated with pomp as trophies. From the iron locks of the cells and the chains and ankle balls of the prisoners, Palloy had around 60,000 medals with freedom motifs minted. The "patriote Palloy" also distributed countless own and foreign songs, pamphlets, posters, newspapers, picture (mostly caricatures) and song leaflets on revolutionary events. Annually (until the restoration ) he hosted a pig's head for the execution of the former king. The demolition phase was ended by a decree of the National Assembly of October 4, 1790 on the payment of the demolition costs in the amount of 568,148 livre by the state.


Paved visualization of the floor plans on the Place de la Bastille

Today there is almost nothing left of the Bastille. Today the Place de la Bastille, named after her, is located on the former site . The course of the walls of the former bastion is reproduced in the paving. Remains of the outer wall of the moat, the Contrescarpe, can be seen on the platform of the Bastille metro station .


  • Constantin de Rennevilles: Inquisition Françoise . E. Roger , Amsterdam 1715. German edition: French inquisition exposed and displayed to everyone, or: History of the Bastille . Nuremberg 1715 (location according to Renneville, Constantin. In: Johann Heinrich Zedler : Large complete universal lexicon of all sciences and arts . Volume 31, Leipzig 1742, column 608.)
  • Événement des plus rares ou l'histoire du Sr. Abbé Comte de Buquoy singuliérement son évasion du Fort-l'Évêque et de la Bastille . 1719. Digitized . German edition: The so-called hell of the living, that is the world-professional Bastille in Paris . 1719.
  • H. Gourdon de Genouillac: Histoire nationale de la Bastille 1370–1789. Récit authentique et vrai . F. Roy, Paris 1880 digitized
  • Friedrich Max Kircheisen : The Bastille . The book circle , Berlin 1927.
  • Henri Lemoine: Le demolisseur de la Bastille , Paris, 1930. (French, to Palloy)
  • Olaf Simons: Marteau's Europe or the novel before it became literature . Rodopi, Amsterdam 2001, ISBN 90-420-1226-9 , pp. 647-661 (on German reports from the Bastille from the early 18th century)
  • Winfried Schulze: July 14, 1789 - biography one day . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-608-91494-3 .
  • Karl-Heinz Kuhn (Ed.): La semaine mémorable ou Récit exact de ce qui s`est passé à Paris depuis le 12 jusqu`au 17 juillet = The memorable week or more precise report of what is going on in Paris from the 12th to the July 17th occurred. Edited, translated and provided with a timetable by Karl-Heinz Kuhn. Publishing house Dr. Hut, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-8439-0111-6 . Digitized

Web links

Commons : Bastille  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Bastille  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Brossais Du Perrai: Historical Remarks and Anecdotes on The Castle of The Bastille. 1780, p. 1
  2. The demolition of the Bastille was often depicted in numerous prints from the years after 1789. Of the recoding and destruction processes of the time, the razing of the so-called Monument of Despotism has become just as famous as the overthrow of the statues of the king in Paris. For the corresponding representations cf. Martin Höppl (2010): Prints of the French Revolution. Art history, cultural anthropology and collective psyche. In: Helikon. A Multidisciplinary Online Journal , 1. 144-183. (PDF; 7.2 MB)
  3. Collection Générale des décrets rendus. Volume 4, 1790, p. 139

Coordinates: 48 ° 51 ′ 11 "  N , 2 ° 22 ′ 5"  E