The fortress-prison has since been demolished, but the area where the French Revolution began on July 14, 1789, can still be visited. This infamous prison kept guard over common criminals as well as religious dissenters and pamphleteers. Freethinkers and polemicists like Voltaire and the Marquis de Sade also had their sejours in the Bastille.
The main purpose of storming the Bastille was to secure gunpowder and ammunition, and came after several days of unrest. The Third Estate, made up of commoners, was locked out of the meeting of the Estates-General by the king. Feeling a crackdown by the king was imminent, the commoners decided to arm themselves.
Today, in place of the fortress-prison, is the Opera de Bastille. In the center of Place de Bastille is the Colonne de Juille, which is a commemoration to another revolution in 1830. Parts of the fortress were excavated while digging the tunnel for the LIne 1 metro in 1899. These remnants have been moved nearby and can be seen in the square Henri-Galli, some 500 meters away at the intersection of quai des Célestins and Boulevard Henri IV. (see on Google maps)
The storming of the Hôtel des Invalides came before Bastille. Here the demonstrators obtained muskets, but still needed gunpowder and ammunition. Their attention was thus turned towards the Bastille.
Formerly the seat of the medieval kings of France, at the end of the 13th century the palace was converted for use as a prison after the king moved to the Louvre. During the revolution’s bloodiest phase, the Reign of Terror, La Conciergerie was known as the “antechamber to the guillotine”. The Revolutionary Tribunal was housed here and as well as some 1200 prisoners. It was here that Marie Antoinette, as prisoner number 280, spent her last days.
Place de la Concorde
Formerly named Place Louis XV, during the revolution the King’s statue was torn down, the Place was renamed Place de la Révolution, and guillotines were set up. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed here.
Now renamed Place de la Concorde, today a 23-meter tall obelisk stands in the center, given to the French by the Egyptian government in the nineteenth century.
Jardin des Tuileries
At the beginning of the French Revolution Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were brought to the Tuileries Palace. They were kept here under heavy surveillance after a failed attempt to flee France. Eventually a mob stormed the palace and the King’s Swiss guards were chased out into the gardens and massacred.
By the way, all of these places are listed on Paris M&M, our iPhone app. Using your phone’s GPS location, it will point out which sites of revolutionary Paris are closest, and how to get to the others.