Robert Zaretsky: Back to the BastilleRoundup: Historians' Take
Robert Zaretsky teaches French history at the Honors College of the University of Houston and is coauthor of "France and its Empire Since 1870."
It was no surprise, of course, whenFrance'snew Socialist president, Francois Hollande, celebrated his election over the weekend at the Place de la Bastille. Once the site of the nation's most notorious prison, the square has long been the place that French leftists proclaim their victories. But while many commentators noted the symbolic importance of the Bastille, they overlook how this symbol has changed over time — a transformation that may hold a lesson for President-elect Hollande.
When a large crowd attacked and took the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the French Revolution was launched. That the prison held no political prisoners but instead a mere half-dozen petty criminals and lunatics, and that the crowd marked the event by chopping off and displaying the heads of two government officials, did little to mute the festive atmosphere.
On the contrary. Overnight, the Bastille became Paris' most successful tourist attraction. The decapitated heads were still fresh on the ends of the revolutionaries' pikes when Pierre-Francois Palloy, a wealthy businessman, with a work crew nearly as large as the crowd that stormed the Bastille, began leveling the medieval pile. Once razed, the prison's iron, brick and wood detritus was transmuted into souvenirs, including inkwells, domino sets, snuff boxes and daggers....
comments powered by Disqus
- Children should be taught about suffering under the British Empire, Jeremy Corbyn says
- Collateral damage: A brief history of U.S. mistakes at war
- East Germany's secrets are slowly being revealed
- William Buckley's FBI files released
- Graphic of the Week: Browse An Archive of 170,000 Depression-Era Photos
- Daniel Pipes says we should be worried that immigrants don’t share western values
- Nobel Prize in Literature Awarded to journalist Svetlana Alexievich
- Niall Ferguson leaving Harvard for Stanford
- Integration Of Cheerleaders Was Difficult To Achieve
- New-York Historical Society to Open Women’s History Center