A medieval fortress-prison in Paris formally known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine. “Bastille” is the French word for “castle” or “bastion,” but with the definite article La, it can only refer to this particular structure, which dates from the French Hundred Years’ War in the 1330s.

La Bastille is best known for the storming of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, when hundreds of citizens surrounded and rushed into the structure to demand its closing as a symbol of royal tyranny. A decision to close it had already been made, and most of the prisoners transferred (there were only seven left that day), but 98 attackers and one defender of the prison died in the gunfire during the storming, and the French Revolution had begun.

The painting below, “The Storming of the Bastille,” is by Jean-Pierre Hoeël (1735-1813). Visible in the center is the arrest of Bernard René Jourdan, marquis de Launay, the governor of the Bastille.

Lafayette sent the key to the Bastille to George Washington the year after the storming, and it remains at Mount Vernon to this day.

Today, July 14 is a national holiday in France, the equivalent of the Fourth of July in the United States. The location of the former fort is now home to the Opéra Bastille; a large ditch or moat behind the old fort has become a marina for pleasure boats, and some stone remnants of one of its towers were discovered during construction of the Metro and were moved to a nearby park.