In the summer of 1789 all of Paris was in turmoil.
Although the people had been rumbling about for a long time, the thought of the legitimacy of the kingdom, which was more deeply rooted in France than anywhere else in Europe, had so far kept people from revolting.
But now the people were tired of starving and bleeding for the powerful of the country. It was above all the young queen, the Habsburg Marie-Antoinette, who poured out all the hatred that had accumulated for far too long.
Her words: “You have no bread? Let them eat cake’ is not historically documented, but it shows how far the ruling class had distanced itself from the common people.
At this time, when the general unrest was accompanied by poor harvests and hyperinflation, King Louis XVI convened the general councils in order to give the country the opportunity to decide its own fate after 175 years.
Actually, the deputies should only approve new taxes as good subjects and then quietly separate again, but it came differently than expected. Once they had met, they quickly became aware of their power and increasingly resisted the king’s orders.
And so it was that on that fateful day, 9 July 1789, they constituted themselves as a constituent assembly and claimed the right to speak for the people of France as their sole representative.
But the ordinary people of Paris, stirred up by leaflets and the heated speeches of individual members of parliament, did not go far enough.
Some of you began by setting fire to the customs houses around Paris in the hope of reducing the price of cereal imports.
When the King finally dismissed his Finance Minister, Jacques Neckar, on 11 July (on whom the people had high hopes), even those who had been indecisive up to that point were infected by the angry mood and there were demonstrations and looting of arms.
Finally, attempts were made to storm the hated Bastille prison, not only to free the prisoners, but above all to seize the ammunition stockpiles stored there.
But the first attempt was bloodily repulsed by the commander of the Bastille, the nobleman Bernard-René de Launay. He opened fire and his men killed more than 90 members of the enraged crowd.
Only when the crowd had brought new weapons and also cannons into their possession and rushed towards the Bastille did the guards capitulate.
At that time there were only four prisoners in the cells (including the well-known writer Marquis de Sade), who were freed to the cheers of the crowd.
The guards were promised free passage, but on the way to the town hall the commander and one of his companions had their heads cut off. Jacques de Flesselles, the head of the Parisian magistrate who had rushed to the rescue, was also beheaded.
The severed heads were finally put on pitchforks, almost as if they had landed back in the dark Middle Ages, and carried through the streets to the loud cheers of the people.
Only two days later, the demolition of the Bastille began. From the stones, the entrepreneur Pierre-Francis Palloy had detailed models of the Bastille made, which were delivered to the new departmental capitals and inaugurated there with pomp as trophies.
They also melted down the chains and footballs of the prisoners and used them to make 60,000 medals, on which they stamped the motif of “freedom”.
Although the military significance of the storming of the Bastille was relatively small, this event had an unprecedented symbolic impact and enormous political repercussions.
For it marked a radical turning point in the course of the Parisian events and for the first time showed a broad public the rapid loss of royal power.
This is one of the reasons why the day of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July is celebrated every year as the French national holiday.