The Bastille was a prison that stood in downtown Paris, France, until 1789. The destruction of the Bastille is the iconic event associated with the popular start of the French Revolution.

Engraving courtesy the Library of Congress
  • On July 14, 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison in Paris. Originally a medieval fortress, by 1789 the Bastille held only seven prisoners. Despite this, the large stone building was a looming symbol of royal authority and abuse of power. Armed Parisians approached the commander (called the governor) of the Bastille to persuade him to release weapons—in particular, gunpowder—stored there. When negotiations broke down, gunfire broke out between the military defenders of the Bastille and the Parisian citizens outside.

    Nearly 100 citizens lost their lives before the Bastille fell later that day. The governor of the Bastille was captured and decapitated.

    Louis XVI, the king of France, was told about the fall of the Bastille the next day. “Is it a revolt?” he asked his adviser. “No, sire. It is a revolution,” he was told.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adviser Noun

    person who offers informed advice about an issue.

    authority Noun

    person or organization responsible for making decisions.

    capture Verb

    to take or control.

    fortress Noun

    protected place. Also called a fort.

    medieval Adjective

    having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    negotiation Noun

    discussion or discourse leading to terms of an agreement.

    prison Noun

    buildings that house convicted criminals and people accused of a crime and awaiting trial.

    revolt Noun

    rebellion or uprising.

    revolution Noun

    overthrow or total change of government.

    royal Adjective

    having to do with a monarchy.

    symbol Noun

    something used to represent something else.