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Bastille Square

The Bastille was built between 1370 and 1383 during the reign of King Charles V as part of the defenses of Paris, the structure was converted into a state prison in the 17th century by Richelieu, who was king Louis XIII's chief minister. At that time it primarily housed political prisoners, but also religious prisoners, "seditious" writers, and young rakes held at the request of their families. It began to acquire a poor reputation when it became the main prison for those taken under lettres de cachet issued by the King of France.

By the late 18th century, the building was made up of eight close-packed towers, around 24 m (80 ft) high, surrounding two courtyards and the armoury. The prisoners were held within the 5-7 story towers, each having a room around 4.6 m (15 ft) across and containing various articles of furniture. The infamous cachots (dungeons), the oozing, vermin-infested subterranean cells were no longer in use, since the respective reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, who both worked on reforming the penal system in France. The governor of the prison was given a daily allowance per prisoner, the amount depending on their status—from nineteen livres per diem for scientists and academics down to three for commoners. In terms of standards, there were many worse prisons in France, including the dreaded Bicêtre, also in Paris. However, in terms of popular literary accounts, the Bastille was a place of horror and oppression, a symbol of autocratic cruelty.

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