Bastille Day is actually “French National Day,” which France celebrates every year on the 14th of July. This holiday commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille, as well as the Fête de la Fédération celebrating the unity of the French people. This is an annual celebration full of military parades, colorfully decorated streets and a variety of nationalistic events, ending, of course, with a spectacular pyromusical shot from the Eiffel Tower itself.
For the 2014 celebration, the city of Paris chose the pyrotechnic show company “Groupe F” (one of the world’s leading manufacturers of pyrotechnic equipment) to create this 4th of July-like spectacular. This show is a monumental endeavor, especially since the company contracted to do the work isn’t given much time and has to put together the entire fireworks display together on-site the actual day of the festivities. To make matters even more stressful, Groupe F was only given full access to the site beginning at 2:00 PM for a show supposed to start at 11:00 PM that night! Obviously, this immense task takes a great deal of expert planning and seamless cooperation from an exceptionally well trained team. The fact that Groupe F’s display appeared so effortlessly perfect and went off on schedule as planned, was truly a testament to their expertise.
To produce this pyrotechnic wonder, two “fire zones” were created. The first was located near to the tower at “Trocadero” and consisted of 6 truckloads of large candles and shells. Nearby these trucks, in the same zone area, were 4 large makeshift sandpits filled with additional candles. The second fire zone was located at the Eiffel Tower itself. Since the Tower was to be the centerpiece of the display, a truckload of large-caliber shells—some as big as 8-inches—were installed to fire all around the base. The rest of the candles and single shots were then equally divided and placed on the Tower’s sides covering all three floors. Additionally, there were some smaller caliber shells placed on the second floor.
The theme chosen for 2014’s French National Day was “War and Peace” (not to be confused with Tolstoy’s novel). This theme was picked precisely because 100 years ago to this date, WWI began, and 70 years ago, WWII followed. A tentative world peace has since succeeded these two horrendous events (give or take a few serious conflicts), but peace is still mankind’s ultimate goal. So, regardless of your historical leanings, for 35 minutes on the 14th day of July, the “Iron Lady” (The French nickname for the Eifel Tower’s is “La dame de fer” which loosely translates to mean “The iron lady” and refers to the wrought iron material she is made of) wears her pyrotechnic crown with pride as three full floors of fireworks are fired up, accompanied by over 300 searchlights bathing the Tower with the colors of the soldiers’ uniforms who fought in these wars. In addition, (and these were particularly impressive this year) 5 large lancework frames spelling out “1914 – 2014 VIVE LA PAIX” (“long live the peace”) were ignited.
Since the goal of Groupe F was to entice emotion from the crowd, their first display was cannon loud, successfully mimicking the sounds of the first battles of WWI. A great number of red shells were used as well to symbolize the blood that was spilled during this awful war. All of their displays were strongly connected to historical events and depicted time periods surrounding different decades. The roaring 20’s were portrayed using cascading shells and geometric shells; the 30’s (historically characterized by economic crisis and depression) were symbolized by many single shots descending from the top of the Tower showcasing its many angles and shapes.
WWII was displayed in a much more dramatic fashion using a host of makeshift “flamethrowers” placed all around the Tower below. Then, using multiple red and yellow shells to light up the nighttime sky, these flaming colors accompanied Mozart’s emotive Requiem Mass in D minor to effectively recreate the specter of German soldiers marching into France to begin their occupation.
The finale was simply designed to honor France and highlight the return of peace to the world. The European Union’s colors were also displayed—even though they didn’t exist until relatively recently—by projecting a beautiful blue sky with its stars onto the Tower. Blue and gold single shots enriched this projected theme. Unique to this finale, Groupe F used single shots placed at the edges of the tower to recreate the red, white and blue of the French flag.
To underscore the tranquility of returned world peace, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” was played as the tower was bathed with candles and shells to form a beautiful pyrotechnic rainbow. Lennon’s song melded into the “Ode to Joy” from the Beethoven’s 9th Symphony accompanied by the symbol of peace: the dove. The show concluded with an abundance of of national colors at the foot of the Tower and a sky full of white comets. The moment created was truly magical!