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7 Things You May Not Know About The French Revolution

Tomorrow is le 14 Juillet, AKA Bastille Day. Most people know that this holiday commemorates the Storming of the Bastille, a major turning point of the French Revolution. However, there’s much more to it than that. Read on for a roundup of seven things worth knowing about this annual celebration.

Sep 6, 2023
  • International News
7 Things You May Not Know About The French Revolution

Tomorrow is le 14 Juillet, AKA Bastille Day. Most people know that this holiday commemorates the storming of the Bastille, a major turning point of the French Revolution. However, there’s much more to it than that. Read on for a roundup of seven things worth knowing about this annual celebration.

1. The “storm” was more of a “shower.”

When many people envision the storming of the state prison known as the Bastille, they picture a massive flood of prisoners being released onto the streets. While an angry mob did indeed descend upon the Bastille, there were only seven prisoners housed there at the time. As a result, their physical release was not as dramatic as history might imply.

However, as the Bastille was a symbol of the much-hated monarchy, its overthrowing was a hugely defining moment for the revolutionaries.

2. Clothing made the man.

We’ve all heard the expression, “Clothes make the man.” This was no more applicable than during the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries distinguished themselves from their oppressors through their choice of clothing.

Explains Culture Trip, “The militiamen of the lower classes styled themselves as the sans-culottes, a title in direct opposition to the fashions preferred by the French nobility, principally their knee-length silk breeches. Instead, they wore long trousers called pantalons, short-skirted coats known as carmagnoles, clogs called sabots, and caps colored red to symbolize liberty. To this day, the Rue du Chapeau Rouge is a popular street name in France, derived from the finishing touch to the revolutionary getup.”

3. It led to the creation of the world’s first public zoo.

Trips to the zoo are part of nearly every child’s upbringing. However, these popular attractions might not exist today if not for the French Revolution.

Just a few years after the storming of the Bastille, Paris’s famed Jardin des Plantes was expanded to include a zoo after a National Assembly decree mandated that all privately own exotic animals be transferred to the Palace of Versailles menagerie (which closed shortly thereafter) or killed, stuffed and donated. The result? An influx of animals and the world’s first public zoo.

4. There were multiple French revolutions.

While the “French Revolution” typically refers to the movement that took place between 1787 and 1799, it was not the country’s only revolution. Additional French revolutions took place in 1830 and 1848.

5. A tennis court was the setting of a major act of defiance.

Who says all major political decisions must be made inside a grand building? The foundations for revolt can be laid anywhere -- including on a tennis court, as evidenced by the Tennis Court Oath.

After being locked out of an Estates General meeting, a group of 576 commoners, clergy, and nobility convened on a nearby tennis court where they signed an oath stating that their intent to keep meeting until they wrote a new constitution. This pivotal pledge asserted the collective belief that political authority came not from the monarchy, but from the people.

6. It gave birth to the metric system.

While traveling throughout France in the late 1780s, Englishman Arthur Young wrote, “[In] France, the infinite perplexity of the measures exceeds all comprehension. They differ not only in every province, but in every district in almost every town.”

Less than a decade later, the country responded with a unified measuring system. “In 1793, the meter was invented to standardize and unify the over 800 measurement units that were used in France prior to the revolution. Based on the distance from the North Pole to the equator along the Paris meridian, the new system replaced a panoply of units often based on the extraordinarily variable human body, such the foot (pied) and thumb (pouce). Other measures included the bushel (boiseau) and the acre (arpent or septier),” reveals Listverse.

7. Even food underwent a revolution.

As the wealth was redistributed in France following the revolution, the culinary world underwent its own democratization.

Explains The Balance, “The modern day restaurant can be traced back to the 18th Century and the French Revolution. Displaced chefs from aristocratic households set the precedent of private dining, a la carte menus, and gourmet food, marking the rise of fine dining.

Meanwhile, the Almanach des Gourmands, published in 1803, became a popular travel guide.

One last thing to keep in mind? While your French friends are certainly celebrating today, the holiday is ultimately more about national pride than a single day or event. "So if you happen to run into any French natives this year during your July 14th celebrations, don’t wish them a 'Happy Bastille Day'—chances are you’ll be met with the same reaction as if someone wished you a 'Happy Declaration of Independence Day' on July 4th," advises Frenchly.

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Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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