Thursday, September 18, 2014

Le Panthéon national

It's a church.  It's a mausoleum.  It's a church.  It's a meeting house for intellectuals.  It's a monument.  The Panthéon in Paris has a very interesting history that is closely tied to the French Revolution.  The ruined church of the Abbey of Ste. Geneviève stood where the Panthéon is now.  Louis XV wasn't feeling so hot so he promised that he would replace the ruined church if he recovered.  He did, and he made good on his promise.   Construction began in 1758 and the architect, Jaques-Germaine Soufflot, designed the new church in the neoclassic style with the façade modeled after the Pantheon in Rome.  

Massive Corinthian columns adorn the portico

The remodeled Abbey of Ste. Geneviève ran in to timing problems.  Construction was finished in 1790, while the French Revolution was in its early stages.  It was a church until April 1791.  The monarchy was out, and a series of governing bodies were in.  When French orator and statesman Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau died, the National Constituent Assembly ordered that the Abbey of St. Genevieve be converted to a mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchmen.  Another architect, Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy, was retained to oversee the transformation of the Abbey into a panthéon, which included covering up many of the windows. 

In 1806, the building was turned into a church again, and then in 1855, the Panthéon became a permanent civic temple, dedicated once again to great French men and women. Because its function kept changing, so did some of the architectural and artistic decoration. Regardless of the changes, the architecture of the Panthéon  is massive and beautiful.

Chris, Jeff and I arrived just in time to join the next tour of the colonnade and the dome.  The tour is cool because it takes you to the upper levels of the Panthéon, as well as outside and around the dome.  If you recall, at this point I was without a camera.  I felt quite naked strolling the streets and visiting the sights of Paris without a camera in hand.  I also felt quite light!  So, all of these photos are from Chris and Jeff's camera.  They took some, I took some.  Two in particular are surely mine because Chris and Jeff are in them.  I remember quite clearly that it was me who was totally enamored with Foucalt's Pendulum.  As for the rest?  I don't know! 

view from an upper level

outside, around the dome

outside, around the dome and more massive columns
The views of Paris from here were amazing!

The Panthéon is in the 5th Arrondissement, in case you didn't know

View towards Sacre Coeur

View to the Eiffel Tower and Napolean's Tomb

I think this is my favorite!  View of St. Sulpice and all the way across Paris to La Defense.
Chris and Jeff!
After the fabulous colonnade tour, we toured the main floor.

more massive columns



Although it is a replica of the original, which is housed at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Foucalt's Pendulum is very cool!  In 1851, physicist Léon Foucault constructed a 67 meter pendulum beneath the central dome and conducted an experiment demonstrating the rotation of the earth. 

The lower level of the Panthéon is the crypt.  It was quite dark, and there were many halls with many tombs. 

The Curies, visitors have left thank you notes

There are only two women interred at the Panthéon, and Marie Curie is the only woman interred there on her own merits.  The other woman, Sophie Berthelot, was supposedly interred there by her husband's insistence, although I'm not sure how that worked since he died only several hours after she did.  

Voltaire - he's smiling because this is the best of all possible worlds!

Here Lies the Heart of Leon Gambetta - I do not know where his body is
Seventy three tombs line the crypt of the Panthéon.  It is a fascinating stroll through French history.  In retrospect, it is surprising to me that the Panthéon doesn't make the Top 10 lists of things to see and do in Paris.  It is architecturally beautiful and historically fascinating.  So much so, that I went back with Ron a few months later.  Didn't get enough of the Pantheon?  Lucky you, there's more to come.


  1. It really is a spectacular building that doesn’t make the top landmarks in many guide books. I missed the long tour because I was working but we did get to go back. As I remember we got there late and only could stay an hour or 2.

  2. Therein lies the problem with trying to catch up! Our memories are pretty rusty. I have photographic evidence though, that we did the colonnade tour. But I think you're right about not being able to stay long.

  3. A family of photographers frolicking through France. Sounds like a novel. Beautiful photographs and insight.