Not French? Why the Panthéon should still be on your bucket list
On our tour of Europe this year we happened to visit two buildings that shared the same name, one in Rome and one in Paris – The Pantheon.
While the former is probably the mother of all Pantheons around the world, the latter is of much younger age (it was build in the 1700’s) and also much bigger in size. It is located in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne university, facing a beautiful little place that is bordered by neo-classicist buildings with tall columns and impressive portals.
Quite a nice part of the city, with lots of impressive old buildings, parts of the Roman city wall close-by, and just steps from the stunning Jardin du Luxemburg. Standing on top of the steps of the Pantheon we notice you can even see the Eiffel Tower.
The Pantheon in Paris is a new attraction for both of us, one that none of us had even thought of visiting before. What a shame! We had no idea what we missed! The Pantheon in Paris is such a stunning building, probably one of the most impressive buildings that we came to see on our tour of Europe, and that’s me saying that after having visited places like Venice, Dubrovnik, and Rome.
Originally planned as a church that mimics the general design of the Pantheon in Rome, literally the house of “many Gods”, this building is now a mausoleum where all notable French citizens will find their last resting place.
Mind you, there are not that many of them interred in the Pantheon, a clear indicator that conditions for iterrment are very strict – in fact, it requires a parliamentary act. But as it turns out, there are quite a few famous people here, more than a not-Frenchy like me would probably expect to know.
There’re famous poets down there in the crypt like Voltaire (whose remains were at one point rumoured to have been stolen from the tomb but, alas, when they checked eventually the inside of the coffin his remains were found to be still intact), Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, there’s famous politicians like Jean Jaurès, inventors like Braille and engineers, scientists, philosophers and activists.
Marie Curie and her husband Pierre are interred here – she is the first female person to have found her final resting place here due to her own merits. The unforgettable Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote the story of the Little Prince – not buried here because his body was never found, but nonetheless commemorated here with a plaque.
Overall, I was really surprised I actually did know so many French people from the past.
But even if you are not that much interested in French history, the French Revolution and the French identity this building is well worth a visit.
The style, neo-classicist with giant domes and upward lines that seem to reach all the way to the heavens, not unlike in a Gothic church, is simply stunning. The oversized artwork is colourful and invites you to take a closer look at scenes of the French history and French identity. The overall scale of the building is astonishing, the atmosphere light and airy.
Most tombs can be found in the basement, the crypt. You take the stairs down to the more solemn part of the building where you will find long corridors with lots of little chambers that are the last resting place of the famous Frenchmen and women. Even this part of the building is surprisingly well designed thanks to the soft lights, the round arches and the warm colours of the limestone.
A very French building indeed, tasteful and splendid, solemn and awe-inspiring. While entry is not cheap at around EUR 7,50 per person, it is definitely one of these places you shouldn’t miss when you next visit the French capital.