Bastille, during the Middle Ages, a gate tower, fortress, or citadel. The bastille in Paris was used as a state prison, especially during the reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, and became a symbol of oppression. "Down with the Bastille!" was one of the first cries of the rioters at the beginning of the French Revolution.

The Paris Bastille, completed in 1383, was a rectangular stone structure enclosing an inner court. It was surrounded by a moat and fortified by eight towers. The Bastille stood just inside the ancient city walls near the gate called Saint Antoine.

Men and women of every class could be imprisoned in the Bastille without trial, merely on a secret warrant issued in the name of the king. Political radicals, criminals, and even personal enemies of court favorites often remained for life. In early July, 1789, riots broke out all over France. Urged on by a street orator, a Paris mob stormed the Bastille on July 14, killed prison officials, released the few prisoners still held there, and began leveling the hated prison. The site of the Bastille is now marked by a bronze column in a public square.