The Panthéon is a neo-Classical church in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
An imposing 19th century building, was first designed as a church, but later turned into a civil temple.
On top of the montagne Ste-Geneviève, not far from the Sorbonne University and the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Panthéon looks over the Quartier Latin. As far back as 507, this site was chosen by King Clovis – the first Frankish Merovingian King – for a basilica to serve as a tomb for him and his wife Clothilde. In 512 Sainte-Geneviève, patroness of Paris was buried here.
Originally an abbey dedicated to St. Genevieve (the patron saint of Paris), but now functions primarily as a burial place for famous French heroes.
History of the Panthéon
In 1744, King Louis XV vowed that if he recovered from a mysterious illness he would replace the ruined Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève with an edifice worthy of the patron saint of Paris.
The king regained his health, and the Marquis of Marigny was entrusted with the fulfillment of the vow. Marigny’s protégé Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-1780) was charged with the plans, and the construction of the Panthéon began.
The foundations were laid in 1758, but due to financial difficulties, it was not completed until after Soufflot’s death, in 1789. As it was completed at the start of the French Revolution, the new Revolutionary government ordered it to be changed from a church to a mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchmen. Twice since then it has reverted to being a church, only to once again become a temple to the great men of France.
In 1851 physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth by his experiment conducted in the Panthéon, by constructing the 67-meter Foucault’s pendulum beneath the central dome. The original iron sphere from the pendulum was returned to the Panthéon in 1995 from the Conservatoire.
On November 30, 2002, in an elaborate but solemn procession, six Republican Guards carried the coffin of Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), the author of The Three Musketeers, to the Panthéon. Draped in a blue-velvet cloth inscribed with the Musketeers’ motto: Un pour tous, tous pour un (“One for all, all for one”), the remains had been transported from their original internment site in the Cimetière de Villers-Cotterêts in Aisne, France.
What to See at the Panthéon
The Panthéon is an early example of Neoclassicism, with a Greek-cross plan and a massive portico of Corinthian columns. Its ambitious lines called for a vast building 110 meters long by 84 meters wide, and 83 meters high. The crypt is equally vast.
The Panthéon’s façade is modeled on that of the Pantheon in Rome
, surmounted by a small dome that resembles that of St. Paul’s Cathedral
. Located in the 5th arrondissement on the top of Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, the Panthéon looks out over all of Paris
The inscription above the entrance reads AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE (“For great men the grateful Nation”). Among those buried in the Panthéon’s necropolis are Voltaire, Rousseau, Honoré Mirabeau, Marat, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin, Marie Curie (the only woman to be so honored), René Descartes, Louis Braille and Soufflot, its architect.
Before entering the crypt, note the striking frescoes depicting scenes from St. Geneviève’s life
When King Louis XV suffered from a serious illness in 1744 he vowed to build a church dedicated to Sainte-Geneviève if he would survive. After he recovered, he entrusted the Marquis of Marigny with the task of building the church, which was to replace the 6th century basilica, at the time known as the Abbey Sainte-Geneviève.
In 1755, the Marquis commissioned Pantheon, Parisarchitect Jacques- Germain Soufflot to design a new, great church.
Construction of the imposing building started in 1757. Mainly due to financial problems, it would take 34 years until the project was completed. After Soufflot’s death in 1780, his associate Guillaume Rondelet took charge of the project. The building was finished in 1791, in the midst of the French Revolution.
Assembly of the Revolution decided by decree to transform the church into a temple to accommodate the remains of the great men of France
. The building was adapted by architect Quatremère de Quincy to its new function as a pantheon.
In 1806 the building was turned into a church again, but since 1885 the Panthéon serves as a civic building.
The floorplan shows a Greek
-cross layout, 110m long and 85m wide (361 x 279 ft). The large dome reaches a height of 83m (279ft). The portico, with large Corinthian columns was modeled after the 2nd century Pantheon in Rome.
The dome features three superimposed shells, similar to the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London
. Iron reinforcements were added to strengthen the structure even more.
The large crypt
, covering the whole surface of the building accommodates the vaults of great French public figures.
Some of the most famous buried here are Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Monnet, Marie and Pierre Curie and Emile Zola.
In case you might be concerned about it being creepy inside, the crypt is rather brightly lit so there’s nothing to worry about!
The Panthéon was also the place where, in 1851, the astronomer Jean Bernard Léon Foucault first held his famous experiment, proving that the world spins around its axis.
The Foucault pendulum moved in 1851 to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers (3e arr). In 1995, it temporarily moved back to the Panthéon due to construction works at the Conservatoire.
From the colonnade around the building’s dome, you have an excellent view over Paris
. For safety issues you can only go up there in company of a guide at regular hours. That’s the reason we didn’t get to go up there, unfortunately.
These are taken directly outside The Panthéon.
The Panthéon itself is best seen coming from the Jardin du luxembourg through the rue Soufflot.
To see the rest of the pictures from this outing, click “Read more
” to the left. 😉
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