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France: Flags used in the Bastille Day parade

Last modified: 2004-01-17 by
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Description of the parade

The French National Day is the 14th of July, which recalls the seizure of the Bastille fortress on 14 July 1789 by the people of Paris. This Day is called in English Bastille Day and more simply Quatorze Juillet or Fête Nationale in French.
The main event of Bastille Day is the military parade which takes place on (and above) Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

The sequence of the events of the parade is more or less the same each year.

The President of the French Republic, who is, according to the Constitution, the Head of the Armes Forces, shall arrive by car and join the Military Governor of Paris, who is responsible of the parade, in a command car. Then a battalion of the Republican Guard shall parade and be reviewed by the President. After the review, the President shall go into the VIP stands, where Madame la Présidente, the members of the Government, the Presidents of the Senate and the National Assembly as well as the guests are already present. In 2002, members of the New York City Fire Department and their families were among the guests. In 2001, the King and Queen of Spain were the main guests.

Before the start of the parade, a small scenography shall be presented. In 2001, the Spanish Royal Guard executed a very impressive equestrian ballet. 2002 is the bicentenary of the Légion d'Honneur, which was the subject of the scenography. This section of the ceremony shall end with a performance of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. In 2002 , la Marseillaise was played and sung according to Hector Berlioz' orchestration. Berlioz, the famous romantic composer of Roméo et Juliette and La Damnation de Faust, wrote his orchestration of the national anthem during the revolutionary days of 1830 which suppressed the Bourbon kingdom, and dedicated it to Rouget de l'Isle, the original composer of La Marseillaise, who was still alive in 1830. Berlioz' version is rarely played because it required a plenty of musicians and two mixed choirs.

The parade shall start with the aircrafts, provided the weather allows it. It is one of the only cases in which flying over Paris is permitted. Other instances are the Paris marathon and the last stage of Tour de France, for which aerial TV images are required. In 2001, the airbone parade was cancelled because of the weather, whereas in 2002 the Military Governor of Paris eventually allowed it. The parade shall be opened by the seven Alphajets of the French Patrol (Patrouille de France), which shall fly in a V-pattern and release a Tricolor "flag" with smoke generators.

The terrestrial parade shall start with Ecole Polytechnique. In 2002, however, the Army Military Academy (West Point) Cadets, which celebrated their bicentenary, were the main guests and therefore opened the parad. They wore five flags, from left to right:

The reporter on French TV stated that only the US national flag would not be dipped in front of the VIP stand. Unfortunately, the salute to the authorities, which would have been the most interesting vexillological event in the parade, was not shown on TV.
The reporter also pointed out the difference in flag dipping between USA and France. In the USA, the flag shall be dipped at an angle of 45 degrees, whereas in France it shall be dipped to the horizontal. The French dipping was clearly seen when the standard bearer of Ecole Polytechnique dipped the flag.

After the salute, all units shall divide in two parts and leave the avenue by its left and right sides. The only unit which shall not follow this rule is the Foreign Legion (Légion Etrangère), because the Legion shall never divide.

The Foreign Legion is the most popular unit with the Fire Brigade and the Republican Guard. The Legion has its own step, slower than the other units. In the first row, the pioneers wear the original apron and carry a shovel. The Legion shall marche with its own band, which includes the famous "Chinese hat".

The parade shall always be closed by the band of the Republican Guard. Then the President shall congratulate the Military Governor of Paris for the quality of the parade and leave in the Presidential car. Around 6,000 guests shall gather in the gardens of the Palais de l'Elysée for the Elysée garden-party (yes, the official name of the ceremony is in English!).

Ivan Sache, 16 July 2002

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