The commemorations got off to a more sombre start than usual on Thursday morning in central Paris with the miltary parade down the Champs-Elysées overshadowed by the news on Wednesday that five French soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan.
Around 7,000 soldiers made their way down the avenue either on foot, horseback or in military vehicles in the 131st such parade to be held on July 14th.
The tens of thousands of people gathered this year were treated to an airshow and traditional dances by troops from France’s overseas departments and territories.
This evening in Paris, a highlight will be an free open-air 'Concert for Equality' organized by the group 'SOS racisme'. The show starts at 6pm on the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower. More than 25 artists have been invited to perform, including Yannick Noah, Grégoire, Nolween Leroy, Pascal Obispo, Kassav’, Abd Al Malik, Michel Delpech, Benabar, Raggasonic and others.
Earlier in the afternoon, also at the Champs de Mars, more than 60 associations and non-profit groups are setting up stands that the public can visit, take home information or get involved.
Fireworks shows, traditionally a big part of the festivities, will be held in cities, towns and villages all around France. The largest, likely to attract hundreds of thousands of spectators, will be held in the Trocadéro gardens beginning at 11pm and entitled 'Musical comedies from Broadway to Paris.' Those wanting to avoid the crowds can follow it on television (I télé) or on the internet.
Internet search giant Google has also got in on the party. Visitors to its French start page, google.fr, will see a special Doodle in place of the normal Google logo. It is a drawing of a city park during a celebration, festooned with blue, white and red lanterns and flags.
While Bastille Day, referred to simply as '14 juillet' in France, marks an actual historical event in 1789, it only became a national holiday in 1880. It commemorates the 'fête de la Fédération' of 1790 and is meant to mark the end of France’s absolute monarchy as well as the taking of the famous prison.