During the mid to late 1700s, France was under the rule of a monarchy. The monarch at the time was King Louis XVI, who ruled with his wife, Marie Antoinette. France was governed by the privileged classes - the nobility and clergy - and the lower classes were taxed heavily to pay for foreign wars, court extravagance and the rising national debt. The people of France were very unhappy with the way they were being treated and on the 14th July 1789, a large group of Parisians stormed the Bastille. This was a large fortress and prison in Paris and was a symbol of the king's power. The storming of the Bastille signifies that power could be held by ordinary citizens and not by the king or God. It also marked the start of the French Revolution which saw the execution of the king and his wife, and mass arrests of royalist sympathizers.

Bastille Day is recognized as the end of the monarchy in France, and the beginning of the modern republic. It was first declared a national holiday in 1880. Today, it is celebrated with a large parade in the Champs Elysées in Paris, local festivals and parties.