The monumental Pantheon building in Paris was commissioned by a king to be a church. It became a mausoleum for France’s most distinguished citizens. And it is one of the most beautiful monuments of Paris. Here’s why it should be on your list of Paris must-sees…
History of the Pantheon
When the King of France, Louis XV, caught a fever so severe the Last Rites were given, he made a promise. He told his mistress Madame de Pompadour that if he recovered he would build a church in thanks. He recovered and honoured his promise and commissioned a church to rival St Peter’s Basilica in Rome to be built on the site of a former medieval abbey.
Construction of the Church of Saint Genevieve, Patron Saint of Paris, was designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot. He became a leader in the development of Neoclassical architecture and designed several important buildings including the Hotel-Dieu in Lyon.
Work on the Pantheon began in 1758. However, by the time it was completed in 1790, Louis XV was dead (1774) and France was a different world, especially for the royals. The French Revolution had begun the year before and in 1791, it was decided to turn the Pantheon into a mausoleum fit for heroes of the Revolution.
The Pantheon building
The Pantheon is one of the most impressive buildings of the Neoclassical period. At 83m high it is majestic. The façade is reminiscent of the Pantheon of Rome with an imposing porch of Corinthian columns. The interior is lavishly decorated with mosaics and paintings of scenes from French History. The pediments have sculptures by Pierre-Jean David d’Angers, a post-revolutionary patriot. And it’s topped by a vast dome.
The Pantheon today
Today the Pantheon is a civic building. It serves as a resting place for some of the greatest (predominantly male) French citizens including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola. On 30th November 2002, six Republican guards carried the coffin of Alexandre Dumas, 1802–1870, author of The Three Musketeers to the Pantheon. It was draped in a blue velvet cloth inscribed with the Musketeers’ motto: “Un pour tous, tous pour un” (One for all, all for one).
There are just five women interred here including Marie Curie. But, in 2021 it was announced that the remains of Josephine Baker would also be placed here. Born in the US, Baker was a famous cabaret dancer, civil rights activist and a heroic member of the French resistance. It’s the French President who decides who is interred in the Pantheon.
What to see at the Pantheon
Nicknamed the ‘temple of the French nation’, the Pantheon makes for a fascinating visit. Inside is a giant pendulum hanging from a huge dome. It was created by French physicist Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault in 1851 to demonstrate how the Earth spins on its axis. The original pendulum is now in the National Conservatory of Art. The one you can see at the Pantheon is a replica but seriously impressive. There are wonderful sculptures, paintings and frescoes. In the crypt there are screens giving information about those who lie in peace there.
Located in the 5th arrondissement, the Latin Quarter, in Place du Pantheon, the building is atop the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve and form the top, there are sweeping views over the city.
More on Paris visits
Hôtel de la Marine, the museum that is like a step back to the 18th century…
Opera Garnier – the opera house of Paris is like a mini Versailles…