BastilleBastille is a French word meaning 'castle' or 'stronghold'. Used as a single word ("la Bastille" in French, "the Bastille" in English) it invariably refers to the Bastille Saint-Antoine.
Built around 1370 as part of the defences of Paris, the structure was converted into a prison in the 17th century, housing mainly political prisoners. Its storming, and subsequent demolition, in 1789 by a large crowd is the symbol for the beginning of the French Revolution.
On May 5, 1789, Louis XVI convened the General Estates to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate, representing the common people (the two others were clergy and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Constituent Assembly. On June 20, the deputies of the Third Estate took the oath of the "Jeu de Paume", swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. (This was named after the place where they had gathered, where an ancestor of tennis, jeu de paume was played.) To show their support, the people of Paris stormed the Bastille on July 14.
Some find significance in the fact that there were only seven inmates housed at the time of the siege. Among those inmates, Marquis de Sade is believed to have triggered the assault by crying that people were being executed inside. Many historians believe that the storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than any practical act of defiance. No less important in the history of France, it was not the image typically conjured up of courageous French patriots storming the Bastille and freeing hundreds of oppressed peasants
This event is commemorated on Bastille Day (Quatorze juillet), the French national holiday.
The former location of the fort is currently called the Place de la Bastille, and some of the remains (although not at their original location) are still visible nearby. The actual fort was demolished soon after its capture and the rubble sold as souvenirs and used for the Pont de la Concorde.
On the present-day Place de la Bastille stands the Colonne de Juillet, and the Opera Bastille.