Trip to the Panthéon

We hadn’t intended to visit the Panthéon but as we were wandering around 5th arrondissement, it would’ve been rude not to pop in and pay our respects.

The Panthéon was the first major monument in Paris. It was built before the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, and was the first to offer a panoramic view over France’s capital. It is located in the Latin Quarter, on the hill of Sainte-Geneviève – oh yes, there are hills in Paris –  opposite the University of Paris (Sorbonne), not far from the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Fascinating when viewed from near or afar thanks to its neo-classical architecture, the building is a work of art by the architect acques-Germain Soufflot (who is also buried in the Pantheon).

The Pantheon in Paris is the place where personalities, largely French, who distinguished themselves in various fields are buried. This is why, if you look carefully at its façade, you will see the inscription:

To great men, the grateful homeland

next to the interesting bas-relief by David d’Angers, alluding to the homeland’s tribute to its imposing heroes.

The great names of science, art, politics and the army are buried here. In its catacombs are the tombs of Pierre and Marie Curie (physicists), Louis Braille (creator of the reading system for the blind), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (philosopher), Alexandre Dumas (writer), Voltaire (writer), Jean Jaurès (politician), René Descartes (philosopher, physicist and mathematician), Jacques-Louis David (painter), Louis Antoine de Bougainville (navigator and officer), among others.

How it all began

Soufflot's original plan for the Church of Sainte Genevieve (1756)

After recovering from being falling gravely ill in 1744, King Louis XV  decided to build a church in honour of the city’s patron saint, Sainte-Geneviève, whose relics were to be housed in the church.

The site of the Panthéon had great significance in Paris history, and was occupied by a series of monuments. It was on Mount Lucotitius, a height on the Left Bank where the forum of the Roman town of Lutetia was located. It was also the original burial site of Sainte-Geneviève, who had led the resistance to the Huns when they threatened Paris in 451. In 508, Clovis, King of the Franks, constructed a church there, which was rededicated to Sainte-Geneviève, who became Paris’ patron saint. Her relics were kept in the church, and were brought out for solemn processions when dangers threatened the city. After recovering from being falling gravely ill in 1744, King Louis XV  decided to build a larger church in honour of the city’s patron saint.

Construction was postponed for various reasons until 1764. Sadly the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot died in 1780 but construction of the new church was already well under way and Soufflot’s former-student Jean Baptiste Rondelet completed the work in 1790.

The building is 110 metres long by 84 metres wide, and 83 metres high, with a same-size crypt below. The ceiling is supported by isolated columns, which hold up an array of barrel vaults and transverse arches. The massive dome is supported by pendentives resting upon four massive pillars. Critics of the plan contended that the pillars could not support such a large dome. Soufflot strengthened the stone structure with a system of iron rods, a predecessor of modern reinforced buildings. 

Panthéon, Paris

The dome, which was designed to rival those of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St Paul’s Cathedral in London, is actually three domes, fitting within each other. The first, the lowest dome, has a coffered ceiling with rosettes, and is open in the centre. Looking through this dome, the second dome is visible, decorated with the fresco The Apotheosis of Saint Genevieve by Antoine Gros. The outermost dome, visible from the outside, is built of stone bound together with iron cramps and covered with lead sheathing, rather than of carpentry construction, as was the common French practice of the period. Concealed buttresses inside the walls give additional support to the dome.

The National Constituent Assembly voted in 1791 to transform the Church of Sainte- Geneviève into a mausoleum for the remains of distinguished French citizens, modelled on the Pantheon in Rome which had been used thus since 17th century. The first panthéonisé was Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau, although his remains were removed from the building a few years later. The Panthéon was twice restored to church usage in the course of 19th century – although Soufflot’s remains were transferred inside it in 1829 – until the French Third Republic finally decreed the building’s exclusive use as a mausoleum in 1881. The placement of Victor Hugo’s remains in the crypt in 1885 was its first entombment in over 50 years.

The building’s grandeur is evident as soon as you walk through the door. Its vast interior is obviously gothic, and magnificent. The building has the shape of a Greek cross and its centre is marked by an incredible dome and a neoclassicist interior with decorated floors and countless columns. On its walls are monumental paintings by Chavannes representing important moments in the history of France.

When we visited there were also six showcases (one with bikes pictured above) by Anselm Kiefer and the sound installation by Pascal Dusapin which were created to pay tribute to the dead of WWI.

Pantheon Paris: Facts, History and Tips 2020 travel notes and guides – travel guides

Foucault’s Pendulum is one of the most striking structures in the Pantheon. In January 1851 the French physicist Jean-Bernard Foucault carried out the same experiment at home, using a two-metre long pendulum that allowed him to swing close to the ground. Four weeks later, he performed another test at the Paris Observatory, now with a twelve-metre long pendulum. And on 26 March 26 1851, with the permission of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, a great lover of history and science, he placed a 67 metre pendulum in the middle of the Pantheon to prove his thesis of the Earth’s rotation.

Visitor's Guide To The Pantheon, A Must See Landmark In Paris' Latin Quarter - The Geographical Cure

The tombs are in the basement, which is reached by going down one of the two side stairs. Underground, there’s a round chamber from which a system of corridors where the historical personalities are located.

The word “Pantheon” is of Greek origin and means “a temple of all gods”. And since 1920, the Pantheon in Paris is classified as a historical monument.

29 Comments on “Trip to the Panthéon

  1. Loved your post. This is probably not my favourite building in Paris, but it is one which I have visited most often. Since the first hotel I ever stayed in Paris was between Rue Soufflot and the Sorbonne, the sight of the Pantheon gives me a sense of coming home every time I visit the city.

    Liked by 1 person

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