The storming of the Bastille on 14th July, 1789, is usually taken to be the day on which the French Revolution began. The significance of the event, however, is more symbolic than anything else——the Bastille was a grim fortress-like prison, which came to symbolize in the minds of many the evils of royal tyranny. Its destruction, therefore, constituted a direct, full-frontal attack on the institutions of the ancien regime. However, in terms of substance, one could just as easily argue that the Revolution truly began when the Third Estate unilaterally declared itself the National Assembly on 4th June, just over a month before the Bastille was stormed.
Revolution had been in the air for some time, not least after a disastrous series of failed harvests and with France on the verge of bankruptcy. Violent disorder had also been a common feature of French political life, especially in the countryside where large numbers of peasants genuinely believed that the aristocracy was hoarding food and deliberately trying to starve them. The general atmosphere in France was feverish in the extreme, and it was only a matter of time before a full-scale revolution broke out. To some extent, then, the storming of the Bastille represented an inevitable culmination of a process long in the making.