Bastille Day 2011: Celebrating In Paris' Former Penal Quarter

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CelebratiJuly 14th is Bastille Day, the the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in Paris, which precipitated the French Revolution. Think Independence Day in America, but oh-so-French.July 14th is Bastille Day, the the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris, which precipitated the French Revolution. Think Independence Day in America, but oh-so-French.

To celebrate the revolutionary ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité, Paris – and the whole country, really – erupts into celebrations (check out photos from last year's fete here).

Historically-minded travelers can head towards the Bastille section of Paris to see where modern France was born. Starting at the Place de la Bastille, where a monument stands on the spot where the prison crumbled, visitors can explore a neighborhood that was once the sorrow of the French, and now shows Paris at her best.

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Bastille Day 2011: Celebrating In Paris' Former Penal Quarter (PHOTOS)

The centerpiece of the Bastille area of Paris is the Place de la Bastille, where the July Column, topped by a statue of the spirit of freedom (a rather minimally attired young man with a torch), commemorates the Revolution. This is where the Bastille one stood. Today, the column, which was erected in the middle of the 19th century looks, as good as ever, despite the advent of car exhaust.

The Opera National de Paris is currently housed in this modern looking button of a theater. All glass and steel, the building itself lacks revolutionary charm, but has seen many great performances.

This summer it is hosting a well-reviewed version of Verdi's Othello. Those who find the idea of sitting through an opera about as appealing as getting shackled in a dungeon can stand outside, slowly smoking cigarettes and looking vaguely disappointed. Fitting in can be fun!

Appropriately for the Bastille area, the Carnavalet is devoted to French history and contains many masterpieces of national importance, including the David painting of the National Assembly swearing it would pass a constitution that would serve the interests of the French people. Many of the paintings here are bold and theatrical. Travelers may feel as though La Marseillaise is constantly playing in the background.

The Bassin de l'Arsenal is a boat basin lined by a simple green park. The basin is not terribly remarkable in most ways - it is rather unimaginatively filled with water - but it's the perfect place to break baguettes with a fellow traveler or a Parisian; a BYOB sort of place.

The Bastille area metro is decorated with scenes and personages of the revolution. The incredibly intricate murals have a sort of Works Project Administration-feel and set an appropriately patriotic tone for visitors about to emerge into the Bastille area. 

       

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