Today is Bastille Day in France, their equivalent to our Fourth of July/Independence Day. The Wikipedia article I point to there has a pretty good overview.
On 20 June  the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath (named after the place where they had gathered which was a place where an ancestor of tennis, the “jeu de paume” was played), swearing not to separate until a Constitution had been established. To show their support, the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison where people were jailed by arbitrary decision of the King (lettre de cachet). The Bastille was, in particular, known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government. Thus the Bastille was a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy.
There were only 7 inmates housed at the time of the siege. The storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than a practical act of defiance. No less important in the history of France, it was not the image typically conjured up of courageous French patriots storming the Bastille and freeing hundreds of oppressed peasants. However, it did immediately inspire preparations amongst the peasants for the very real threat of retaliation.
An even more comprehensive history (you gotta love Wikipedia) is found at the Storming of the Bastille article.
Back in the summer of 1989, when I was 16, I spent three weeks in France on a high school trip. We were there for the Fête Nationale (National Holiday), in… Tournon, I believe it was. Not only was it Bastille Day, but it was the bicentennial as well. Sadly, it was half my lifetime ago and I don’t remember nearly as much as I should; I remember fireworks in Tournon but the big action was in Paris (where we weren’t). I did keep a journal for the time I was there—most of it, anyway—I think I’ll dig that up and re-read it. Hell, I’ll post it here, even.
In the meantime, happy 14 juillet.