La Fête Nationale aka Bastille Day

There’s a link in the right hand column on this page to a 5-minute video that condenses the half-hour fireworks display over the medieval walled Cité of Carcassonne on July 14, 2016. That was just a few months after we had moved here and it was quite the introduction to our first Bastille Day in France, except no one here calls it that. Officially it’s “‘la Fête Nationale Française” although we typically hear simply “la Fête Nationale” or even “le quatorze juillet” just as in America we might say “the fourth of July” instead of the more formal “Independence Day”. In researching the history behind this holiday I discovered some fascinating connections between George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Bastille Day.

There’s a link below to a pdf of an article written by Sara Georgini for Smithsonian Magazine that gives the details of how George Washington obtained the main door key to the Bastille. Briefly, once the former prison had been destroyed, his long-time friend, the French Marquis de Lafayette, presented the key to the first US President as a “token of victory gained by Liberty over Despotism….” Even more surprising to me was to learn that Thomas Jefferson was in Paris on July 14, 1789 when the Bastille was stormed and then demolished. He reported back to Congress on the chaos in the streets, both day and night, as angry mobs went “through all parts of the city without any decided and practicable object.”

In Carcassonne the annual July 14 fireworks show that attracts around 700,000 spectators had been canceled for the last two years because of Covid so we anticipated even bigger crowds and an even better display than in previous years. To get the best viewing point possible we booked a balcony room in the hotel where we stayed the first week we moved here while waiting for our house to be available. The photo across the homepage of our blog was taken from there. As you can see from the accompanying photos, it was quite the celebration. Bill took most of these but the ones marked “Ville de Carcassonne” (including the two at the top) are © from our friend and city photographer Julien Roche, thank you!

By the way, if you’re visiting Washington’s home, Mount Vernon in Virginia, the key to the Bastille is apparently still on display in the central hall of the mansion.

Travel note: Should you visit Carcassonne and want to know the best spots for viewing the fireworks, one of our local newspapers published their suggestions as follows:

  • The left bank of the Aude river from the old bridge (Pont Vieux) to the parking lot along Paul Sabatier Boulevard
  • The New Bridge (Pont Neuf)
  • Bellevue Park in the Capucins neighborhood
  • The heights of the Grazailles neighborhood behind the train station
  • The agricultural high school Charlemagne
  • The Comptoir de la Cité parking lot (dinner required)
  • The A61 toll road rest stop Belvédère d’Auriac

Washington, Jefferson, Bastille article pdf

YouTube video links:

The entire 23-minute fireworks show from July 14, 2022 by TV Carcassonne

Bill’s 2-minute finale of the 2022 show

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