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The Panthéon was constructed after King Louis XV vowed that he would build a new grand basilica if he recovered from an illness he suffered from. During this time he prayed to the patron saint of Paris, Saint Geneviève, that he would recover. When he finally did in 1744, the new basilica was dedicated in her name.
The area where the current Panthéon stands today has however been a sacred site for an even longer time. The place was a sacred site already in year 507 and later in 512, when it became the first burial place for the Saint Geneviève, who had protected Paris from barbarians.
Construction and use
The man responsible for the construction of the Panthéon was the Marquis of Marigny and the foundation stone was laid later in year 1758. However, due to financial difficulties, the completion of the building was delayed until 1789. This was a time of revolution in France, and in 1791 the Constituent Assembly passed a decree to turn the basilica into a temple to house the remains of the nation’s greatest.
Since then, the Panthéon has been converted back to a basilica twice. The converting back and forth did however stop with the burial of the famous writer Victor Hugo in 1885 and the Panthéon has ever since mainly served as a civic temple for France’s greatest.
Why visit Panthéon ?
The Panthéon is one of the most outstanding buildings in Paris, which says quite a lot. The change from a basilica to a temple also led to some changes on the outside of the Panthéon.
Above the front pillars at the main entrance, visitors will see the beautiful pediment which depicts “The fatherland crowning the heroic”. One can also read the inscription “AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE”, meaning “For the great men from the grateful homeland”.
The detail of the pediment is stunning. By looking closely on the left side of the pediment, one will see two small men sitting down. These are the famous philosophers and writers Voltaire and Rousseau. This pediment is not the original one, but was added in 1837 to reflect the new use of the building.
Another typical feature of main entrance is its massive Corinthian columns. The façade itself is modeled after the Pantheon of Agrippa in Rome. On both the inside and the outside of the Panthéon, the Roman and Greek neoclassical features are evident.
The large dome of the Panthéon was inspired by several similar Renaissance structures. It a smart way to lead a lot of daylight into the building, which was one of the architect Jaques-Germain Soufflot’s main goals when designing the Panthéon.
While the outside of the Panthéon is impressive, most people visit it for its inside. The inside is covered with the same Corinthian columns that make up the front façade. The inside also holds three other main features.
The first one is the many beautiful drawings which covers the walls - each one telling a part of the French history. The paintings depict stories with everything from the childhood of Saint Geneviève to the story of Joan de Arc.
In the middle of the Panthéon hangs Foucault’s pendulum. This is an invention by the physicist Léon Foucault which demonstrates the rotation of the earth. The invention was installed in 1851, but was later removed and reinstalled 1995. Surrounding the invention stands early 20th century sculptures, depicting scenes from the French revolution.
The National Convention
The last main feature one will find on the inside is the magnificent statue in the far back. This is known as “The National Convention” which shows the symbol of France, Marianne, surrounded by soldiers and members of the parliament after the revolution. Just under Marianne the phrase “Vivre libre ou mourir” is inscribed; meaning “To live free or die”.
Another highly recommended place to visit is the crypt. As mentioned in the beginning, the Panthéon is after all a mausoleum for France’s greatest, so the crypt is well worth a visit. In total, there are more than 70 people entombed in the crypt. Among those buried down in the crypt is Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Moulin and Marie Curie.
Panthéon is located in central Paris, France. The Panthéon is located in the 5th arrondissement. It is easy to access Panthéon by foot or by metro. If you’re taking the metro, take line 10 and get off at either Cardinal Lemoine or Maubert Mutualité.
For the exact location of the Panthéon, check out the location map to the right.
Interactive location map. For a larger and more detailed map, check out our France map.
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