One of my favorite places in Paris is the Pantheon, a neo-Classical church in the Latin Quarter. It was modeled after the Pantheon in Rome and topped with a dome similar to the one on Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London. Although it was originally an abbey, it now primarily serves as a burial place for famous French heroes, leaders, artists, and writers.
This beautiful building was constructed as a result of a promise made by King Louis XV in 1744. He was suffering from a serious and mysterious illness (later believed to be gout), and vowed that if he recovered he would build something worthy of the patron saint of Paris. He recovered, and construction of the Pantheon began in 1758 and was completed in 1789. Like constructions projects today, the Pantheon ran into delay after delay — most related to a lack of finances.
Since the completion of its construction coincided with the start of the French Revolution, the Revolutionary government order the building changed from a church to a mausoleum where the remains of great Frenchmen could be interred. Although it has reverted to a church twice since then, today it is once again a mausoleum.
The Pantheon is basically a cross-shaped building with a domed center. When I walked into the Pantheon it felt austere and cavernous, and I immediate started using my library voice.” Around the walls are murals depicting religious and revolutionary figures as well at statuary and frescoes. I found the series of Joan of Arc particularly compelling.
In the center of the Pantheon, beneath its dome, is a pendulum standing nearly 220 feet tall. This is Foucault’s Pendulum, named for Leon Foucault, who, in 1851, built the pendulum to conduct experiments demonstrating the rotation of the earth. I was absolutely mesmerized by its simplicity and beauty.
After spending time appreciating all this art and history, you’ll have the option of visiting the necropolis (mausoleum) or climbing stairs to get a view of Paris from the top.
It may sound morbid, but the Pantheon’s necropolis is also a work of art. Here are buried many famous Frenchmen and one famous Frenchwoman. Over the years there has been heated debate over who deserves and doesn’t deserve to be buried in this most sacred site, and today it takes an act of Parliament to be buried here. A few of the notables include: Alexandre Dumas (author of the Three Musketeers), Victor Hugo (author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Voltaire, Rousseau, Emile Zola, Rene Descartes, Louis Braille and Pierre and Marie Curie, the latter the only woman buried here.
I much preferred to climb up, however. All 206 steps to the colonnade beneath the dome. Don’t let the fact that this is a guided tour turn you away from this option. It’s really only “guided” so that you don’t get lost on the way up! The way is narrow and steep, and at times can be a little disorienting. Don’t worry about making the climb in record speed — go slow and rest along the way if you need to. You likely won’t be the only one.
The view from the top of the Pantheon is spectacular – a 360 degree view of all that Paris has to offer. This is one of the best views in the city, in my opinion. Walk around the top and take it all in.
Location: The Pantheon is located at Place du Pantheon in the 5th arrondissement. The nearest metro is Cardinal Lemoine and the nearest RER is Luxembourg.
Hours: Open 10 am – 6 pm October through March, and till 6:30 starting in April. The last admission is 45 minutes before closing. The upper area can only be visited April through September, and departure times very. I’d recommend checking for a convenient tour time when you first arrive, and then work the remainder of your viewing around that time.
Admission: 8 Euros for adults and 5 Euros for ages 18-25. Admission is FREE for everyone under 18, those under 26 who are citizens of one of the EU countries or are non-European permanent residents of France, disabled visitors and their escorts, and the unemployed. Group rates and school rates are also available. The Pantheon is included on the Paris Museum Pass. If you’ll be visiting several attractions, that’s a cost efficient option.
Photo credits: travel photo collection of Mary Jo Manzanares