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14 facts about Bastille Day

As the French celebrate the Fête Nationale, here are a few things you may not have known about July 14 in France

THERE will be an additional poignancy to this year’s Bastille Day celebrations in Paris, as they also mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.

Display organiser Christophe Berthonneau, who also choreographed the firework displays in Normandy last month for the D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations, has named his display War and Peace. He describes it as a “homage to the victims of the First World War”.

Fireworks will be launched from the Eiffel Tower itself for the first time since the millennium, and only the second time ever.

His team will only have four hours to set up the fireworks from the time the Tower closes to the public to the start of the display at 11pm tonight.

But Mr Berthonneau also orchestrated the New Year display in 2000, so he understands the technical difficulties involved.

To get you in the mood to enjoy the displays wherever you are, here are 14 facts about July 14.

Although it is known as Bastille Day in English-speaking countries, in France it is formally known as La Fête Nationale, and commonly le quatorze juillet

It commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. On this day, more than 200 years ago, revolutionaries stormed the notorious Bastille prison, which had become a symbol of royal oppression in Paris

The Bastille was originally a fortress built around 1370 to defend Paris from the English in the 100 Years War. It later became a prison and housed many political prisoners

The first celebration - the Fête de la Fédération - took place on July 14 1790. But the first official Fête Nationale did not take place until July 14, 1880

August 4 was also considered as a possible date for the Fête Nationale, as it marked the end of the feudal system in France in 1789

The date of the Fête Nationale was written into law on 6 July 1880, and the Ministry of the Interior recommended to Prefects that the day should be "celebrated with all the brilliance that the local resources allow".

The military parade along Paris’s Champs Elysee on July 14 is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe. It was first held on July 14, 1880. This year, representatives from nearly 80 nations that were involved in the First World War took part in the march

When it was stormed, the Bastille housed only seven prisoners - four forgers, two “lunatics” and one “deviant” aristocrat, the Comte de Solages. The notorious Marquis de Sade had been transferred out of the prison 10 days earlier

The king, Louis XVI, was not informed of the attack on the Bastille until the following day. He reportedly asked if it marked the start of a revolt - only to be told: “No sire, it is a revolution”

Much of the Bastille was destroyed by November 1789. Today, only a few stone foundations remain - and they have been relocated to the side of the Boulevard Henri IV in Paris

Unlike the prison, the key to the Bastille still exists. It can be found in George Washington's residence of Mount Vernon. It was sent to him by the Marquis de la Fayette in 1790 - who had been a key player in the American War of Independence

Liege, in Belgium, has also marked Bastille Day since the end of the First World War. The city was awarded the Legion D’Honneur in honour of its resistance against advancing German forces in the Battle of Liege at the start of the conflict

Sacramento, California, meanwhile, marks the day with a street festival featuring "waiter races" in the midtown restaurant and shopping district

In 1979, one million people attended Jean-Michel Jarre’s Bastille Day concert at Place de la Concorde. At the time it was a world-record crowd for a concert

Photo: Irene Tong

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