InspireProvencal History & TraditionsVirginie Van Der Wees

Discovering French Bastille Day Traditions in Provence

On July 14, 1789, an angry mob stormed the Bastille in Paris, which housed only seven inmates. To an enraged crowd, the medieval structure represented a landmark symbolizing their frustration with the reigning monarchy, a weak economic environment, high taxes and a lack of personal financial control. This milestone event sparked the start of the French Revolution, but now it is a public holiday with many traditions. To discover French Bastille Day traditions, the text below is written in English, followed by French, so that you can improve your language skills.

French Flag Provence

What is Bastille Day

July 14th is our national holiday in France. It is a public holiday where we meet with family or friends to celebrate. Many events take place: balls, concerts, parades but also fireworks. Le 14 juillet est notre fête national en France. C’est un jour férié où on se retrouve en famille ou entre amis pour faire la fête. De nombreux événements ont lieu : des bals, des concerts, des défilés mais aussi des feux d’artifices.

Outside of France, the expression used to talk about this bank holiday is “Bastille day”. But it is an expression that the French do not use. Between us, we ask ourselves: “What are you doing on July 14th?”. En dehors de la France, l’expression utilisée pour parler de cette fête est « Bastille day ». Mais c’est une expression que les Français n’utilisent pas. Entre nous, on se demande : « Qu’est-ce-que tu fais le 14 juillet ? »

What is the Bastille?

King Charles V had the Bastille built in the 14th century. The Bastille is a military fortress. Its construction began in 1370 and lasted thirteen years. The Bastille then became a prison. It represents the symbol of the oppression of the monarchy. This is why it was stormed on July 14th, 1789. It was also completely destroyed. Le roi Charles V a fait construire la Bastille au 14ème siècle. La Bastille est une forteresse militaire. Sa construction a commencé en 1370 et a duré treize ans. La Bastille est ensuite devenue une prison. Elle représente le symbole de l’oppression de la monarchie. C’est pourquoi, elle est prise d’assaut le 14 juillet 1789. Elle est d’ailleurs entièrement détruite.

French Bastille Day Traditions

There’s Always a Parade

Most French cities have concerts, balls, parades and more. But it is in Paris that the grand military parade has taken place since 1880. The only time the military parade did not take place was during the German occupation during the Second World War.

Dans la plupart des villes françaises, se succèdent concerts, bals, défilés et autres. Mais c’est à Paris qu’a lieu le grand défilé militaire depuis 1880. La seule fois où le défilé militaire n’a pas eu lieu, c’est pendant l’occupation allemande durant la deuxième guerre mondiale.

Patrouille de France

All the army regiments are represented. They all descend the Champs-Elysées and greet the President of the Republic. Because of the international context, this parade honours Eastern European countries. It is the firefighters who bring up the rear. At the end of the parade, the latter, with the Air Force, are at our disposal to answer our questions. The parade lasts two (2) hours. It’s an excellent show.

Tous les régiments de l’armée sont représentés. Ces derniers descendent les Champs-Elysées et saluent le Président de la République. À la vue du contexte international, ce défilé va mettre à l’honneur les pays européens de l’Est. Ce sont les pompiers qui ferment la marche. A la fin du défilé, ces derniers, avec l’Armée de l’air, se tiennent à notre disposition pour répondre à nos questions. Le défilé va durer duex (2) heures. C’est un chouette spectacle.

Spectacular Fireworks

Fireworks take place everywhere in France. In Provence, fireworks are subject to the climate. In case of too much heat, the fireworks are often cancelled to avoid fires. Many people attend this event. In Paris, the July 14th fireworks display is a must-see. It is shot from the Eiffel Tower. It is, therefore, possible to go to the Champ de Mars but to get a good seat, you can hang around all day. For the less adventurous, it is possible to see the fireworks from Montmartre, for example. The view is equally impressive. As we say at home, sometimes you must choose your fights.

Bastille Day Fireworks

Les feux d’artifice ont lieu partout en France. En Provence, les feux d’artifice sont soumis au climat. En cas de trop forte chaleur, les feux d’artifice sont souvent annulés pour éviter les incendies. De nombreuses personnes assistent à cet événement. A Paris, le feu d’artifice du 14 juillet est un spectacle incontournable. Il est tiré depuis la Tour Eiffel. Il est donc possible de se rendre au Champ de Mars. Pour avoir une bonne place, vous pouvez faire le pied de grue toute la journée. Pour les moins téméraires, il est possible de voir le feu d’artifice de Montmartre par exemple. La vue est tout aussi incroyable. Comme on dit chez moi, il faut aussi parfois choisir ses combats.

Bastille Day Vocabulary

– La France : France
– La Provence: Provence
– Le quatorze juillet : Bastille Day
– La fête nationale : National day
– Un défilé : a parade
– Un feu d’artifice : a firework
– Un bal : a danse
– Un concert : a concert
– Une cérémonie commémorative : a commemorative ceremony

When students join me in Provence for a French immersion stay, I want to make sure that they improve their language skills and also get a chance to visit the region. If you come to my place for an immersion stay in Provence, I will make you discover the different aspects of Provence: the landscapes and the scents, but also the culture and the gastronomy… while helping you to improve your French. See you soon in Provence!

Si vous venez chez moi pour un séjour d’immersion en Provence, je vous ferai découvrir les différents aspects de la Provence : les paysages et les senteurs, mais aussi la culture, la gastronomie… tout en vous aidant à améliorer votre français. A bientôt en Provence !


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Virginie Van Der Wees

Virginie Van Der Wees lives with her young family near the Montagne Sainte Victoire, a short 20-minute drive from Aix-En-Provence. She is a masseuse and a certified French teacher for non-French speakers. Since 2018, Virginie puts together full immersion experiences that include hosting and supporting language learners at their family home.

The Virginie in Provence curriculum allows students to build on their knowledge and move to the next level and beyond – all while enjoying the wonders that Provence has to offer. Suitable for any age group, Virginie offers adapted, tailor-made solutions for clients who are moving to Provence. This program allows them to improve their French and overcome cultural changes. Virginie also provides classic French lessons and cooking lessons (in French) online or at the client’s home.

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