The Pantheon of Paris: A Place to Honour French Heroes

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Though not as famous as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, a visit to Paris is not complete without a trip to see the stunning Panthéon Paris. This tourist attraction weaves a tale rich in historical value and national pride. One cannot fully understand the true essence of French culture without immersing themselves in everything that this spectacular monument has to offer. From its structural beauty to its scientific wonders, from its proud heritage to its honoured celebrities, the best of France is housed in one magnificent building.

Fit for a Saint

From the Greek word meaning “every god”, the beautiful Panthéon was built by Louis XV when he vowed in 1744 that, should he recover from an illness, he would have a building constructed as a tribute to Sainte-Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris. Construction began in 1758, but due to financial difficulties, was not completed until 1789, and its architect, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, passed away before the completion of his masterpiece. Originally intended to be a church, it has become a final resting place since the French Revolution for such heroes as Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, and the Curies.

Built in the Latin Quarter, the Panthéon was created in the style of Neoclassicism, with a façade and large Corinthian columns modelled after the great Roman Pantheon. Sitting proudly on top of the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, it overlooks the entire city of Paris. The ground floor is in the shape of a Greek cross layout, with a length of 110 m (352 ft) and a width of 85 m (272 ft). In the centre is a dome, reminiscent of The Tempietto in Rome, with a height of 85 m (272 ft). It was this dome that inspired Leon Foucault to attempt his first experiments to demonstrate the rotation of the earth on an axis. Therefore, it is fitting that there is now a Foucault pendulum hanging over the centre of the Panthéon floor; though it appears to be swinging, it is in fact immobile and the earth’s rotation is giving it the illusion of movement.

Around the corner from the Foucault pendulum is a plaque in honour of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, famous author of Le Petit Prince and aviator who disappeared during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean in July of 1944. Though parts of Saint-Exupéry’s flight suit and plane have been recovered, there is currently no confirmation on the events that led to the tragic conclusion of his final flight.

Hall of Heroes

Perhaps one of the strongest reasons for visiting the Panthéon, however, is not located in the edifice itself but beneath it. In the large crypt below, visitors can pay their respects to some of the most wondrous minds to have ever graced the country, or even the planet. Without the influence of the people who now reside beneath the floors of the former church, many advances in science, medicine, art and literature would not have ever been made.

Upon entering the crypt, there is an inscription that can be read over the entrance: AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE (“For great men the grateful nation”). Among the first graves encountered, proudly facing each other, are monuments to notable writers and philosophers Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, both of whom were pivotal in the development of French literature and culture in the eighteenth century.

Further inside the crypt, sharing a vault are some of France’s greatest nineteenth century French authors: Victor Hugo (who brought us the incomparable Les Misérables and Notre Dame de Paris), Émile Zola (father of the Naturalist movement and creator of the Rougon-Macquart), and Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers), who was brought to the crypt in 2002. Inventor Louis Braille, chemist Louis Pasteur and mathematician René Descartes, as well as the Panthéon’s own architect Soufflot, have also been honoured with a place among France’s most extraordinary citizens.

In 1995, Marie Sklodowska Curie became the first woman laid to rest at the Panthéon, where she now remains alongside her husband, Pierre.

It is impossible not to be moved when faced with such a tremendous gathering of brilliant and influential minds. Only the most deserving are honoured with a home in the Panthéon, and after a single visit, anyone can see why these residents have been so honoured. These phenomenal heroes all played a significant role in shaping our world into what it is today, and for this, we owe them our respect and gratitude.

The Panthéon is located at the Place du Panthéon, 5e arrondissement. It is open daily from 10am until 6pm and admission is 7€ for adults, 4.50€ for ages 18-25, and free for children 17 and under. The nearest stop on the Métro is the Cardinal Lemoine and on the RER is the Luxembourg. The Panthéon can be reached by phone by calling 01-44-32-18-00.

Daugherty, Christi. Frommer’s Paris Day by Day 1st Edition. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, 2006.

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1 CommentLeave a comment

  • A very interesting article. We hope to go to Paris next year and we shall put it on our list

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