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Back in the Day: French revolutionaries storm the Bastille

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Back in the Day: French revolutionaries storm the Bastille


July 14, 1789. Hundreds of French protesters attack the Bastille, a medieval prison-fortress in the centre of Paris. The 25-metre high building was physically imposing and a symbol for French citizens of the excesses and tyranny of the monarchy. By the summer of 1789, economic hardship and reluctance on the part of King Louis XVI to implement reforms were pushing France to the brink of revolution. The sacking of popular pro-reform minister Jacques Necker on July 11 brought angry crowds into the streets of Paris. Looters on the hunt for arms and munitions arrived at the Bastille, where only seven inmates were still being held. They exchanged musket fire with guards on the tower walls, but during the afternoon the protesters were joined by army deserters. Realising resistance was futile, the Bastille’s military governor, Bernard-René de Launay, surrendered at around 17:30. He was killed by the rioters later that day. The event was a defining moment in the French Revolution and July 14 remains a national holiday in France.

Also on July 14: Pat Garrett shoots and kills outlaw Billy the Kid (1881); The Campanile in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square collapses (1902); Egypt’s Rawya Ateya becomes the Arab world’s first female member of parliament (1957).

Born on July 14: Emmeline Pankhurst (1858), Gustav Klimt (1862), Ingmar Bergman (1918), Angélique Kidjo (1960)

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