July 14 is Bastille Day, or if you're French, La Fête Nationale. 

It's the day the French celebrate the storming of the Bastille in 1789 which signalled the start of the French Revolution.

It's a national holiday in France, traditionally celebrated with a large, leisurely lunch or a picnic, and Paris stages Europe's oldest and largest military parade, which makes its way from the Arc de Triomphe along the Champs Élysées to the Place de la Concorde. In the evenings there's a firework display at the Eiffel Tower and the fire stations throughout the city open their doors to the public and hold fund-raising dances which go on until the early hours. Bastille Day celebrations aren't confined to France. All over the world Francophiles and expats hold their own celebrations, from North America and New Zealand to South Africa and India.

The spark of revolution

The Bastille was a fortress in Paris, built in the 14th century which served as a prison but which also symbolised the power of the monarchy. In 1789 it housed gunpowder and weapons as well as a few prisoners, which was why it was chosen by the revolutionary crowd as a target. In hindsight the attack was seen as the beginning of the French Revolution - a ten year period of unrest which abolished the monarchy (for a while) and culminated in a coup d'état lead by Napoleon Bonaparte on 9 November, 1799.

More than one celebration

But that's not the full story. A year to the day after the storming of the Bastille, a huge gathering took place at the site where the Eiffel Tower now stands. Called the Fête de la Federation, it marked the point at which all the various factions of French society came together - including the king, Louis XVI and his infamous queen, Marie Antoinette - to swear allegiance to a new constitution. So from the French point of view July 14 is also a celebration of peace and the beginning of a new era of national unity.

Learn more about French history and culture with a PGL France Explorer trip to Paris. Visit the Place de la Bastille and the July Column, erected to commemorate the second revolution in July 1830 and the overthrow of Charles X. Stroll along the Champs Élysées, visit the Eiffel Tower and the Place de la Concorde - formerly the Place de la Révolution. It's a great way to give students hands-on learning experiences and there are plenty of opportunities to improve language skills as well.

By PGL Travel.