When visiting Paris, visitors want to take in the great sites of the city. Even if they do not know much about the City of Light, they will know, by reputation, a handful of sites: The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Bastille.
Except…The Bastille does not exist anymore; the Bastille is sometimes referred to as “The most famous tourist site that no longer exists.”
For those with only a cursory knowledge of French history this is a bit confusing. “I thought ‘Bastille Day’ (July 14) was the French Independence Day? Doesn’t it commemorate the ‘The Storming of the Bastille,’ and the start of the French Revolution?” The part that often gets left out about the storming of the Bastille, is that it was torn down during the French Revolution. The Bastille was a fortress castle/prison built in the late 1300s and had been used by French kings as a prison often housing political prisoners; it came to represent to oppression of the monarchy.
All that is left today of the Bastille is an open plaza, now called the Place de La Bastille.
A few years ago my wife and I took a trip to George Washington’s Virginia home, Mount Vernon. (Mount Vernon is a wonderful site, and was the subject of a previous blog entry.) Taking the tour of Mount Vernon, we walked into George Washington’s foyer; Looking around the room the eye is drawn to a shadow box hanging on the wall, inside it is a rather large key.
Our guide explained that this key had been a gift from the from the Marquis de Lafayette, and it was the key to the front door of the Bastille.
Lafayette had been in charge of a revolutionary garrison at the Bastille prior to its destruction, and gave the key as a gift to Washington to represent the shared bond between brother peoples and brother revolutions.
Upon learning this I was stunned. The Bastille, a critical site in the history of France, was no more, but its front door key hung in the foyer of the home of the United States’ first president, an ocean away.
It was one of those times when something of local importance, George Washington’s Home, transformed into something of international importance: a tangible representation of the age of revolution. That key hanging on that wall made the world both a little smaller and a little bigger, and while the door it opened may longer exists, it still serves to open many more doors today than it ever did before.
For more information about the key visit: