Pantheon (44)

Majestically crowning the Saint Genevieve hill, it is the jewel in the crown of the Quartier Latin, the Latin Quarter. The pantheon is, without doubt, one of the most singular and emblematic monuments in Paris.

It has witnessed, from its haughty position, the most important events in Paris of the last 250 years. Here are buried the great names of the French Republic. Politicians, writers, scientists or ecclesiastical figures all have their piece of eternity.

The pantheon is in neoclassical style. The façade is decorated by a portico of 22 Corinthian columns inspired by the Roman pantheon. Above them is a triangular pediment, the work of David D'Angers. It represents the great Mother Country, France giving laurels to its great men. Among them it is possible to recognise Voltaire, Rousseau and Bonaparte. An impressive cupola crowns the building.

Its interior space has four naves arranged in a Greek cross, the centre of which supports the great dome. 

The pantheon measures 110 metres in width and 83 metres in height and is impressive for its empty and cold solemnity. Rich in marble, the nave is adorned with bas-relief work and paintings where religious and republican elements are mixed. It is like a huge mural whose main subject matter is the glory of France or the fresco that decorates the dome with the Apotheosis of Saint Genevieve or the mural paintings on the south wall that illustrate the life of the saint, work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, or the monument to the political writer Diderot by Alphonse Terroir.

It is worth going up to the gallery of the dome where you will be able to enjoy magnificent views of Paris. 

As a curiosity, from the inside of the first gallery the physicist León Foucault publicly carried out the experiment of the famous pendulum to show the rotation of the Earth with its oscillation. Many Parisians gathered in 1851 to witness it. If you also want to witness Foucault’s pendulum oscillation, you should go to the Museum of the National Conservatory of Arts and Trades, since it is there. Thus you will be able to see how a sphere weighing nearly 50 kilos hanging on a thread varies its movement as the planet itself also moves.

Some stairs lead to the crypt, where the remains of 73 leading figures rest. Among the most outstanding we can find Voltaire, Rousseau, Marat, Emile Zola, Pierre and Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Victor Hugo or Alexandre Dumas, who was the last to be moved here, in 2002. From among all these personalities there are only two women buried in the pantheon. They are the scientists Marie Curie and Sophie Berthelot. Marie Curie, winner of 2 Nobel Prizes, was moved here in 1995 to be placed alongside her husband.

The history of the Pantheon began in 1764. Louis XV trusted more in the Church than doctors and promised to build a church in honour of Saint Genevieve if he managed to recover from the serious illness he was suffering. The old Abbey of Saint Genevieve was in ruins and on the same site the first stone was laid of the new church, which would be undertaken by the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot. The works were completed in 1790 by the partners of Soufflot, who had died ten years before.

The French revolution changed the destiny of the monument. Like many other religious buildings, its destiny would be consecrated to the fatherland and the republic instead of the glory of God. 

Mirabeu was the first great figure to be buried in the Pantheon although he was later removed.

Not only its role experienced changed, however. Its physical aspect also changed a lot between 1791 and 1793. The 42 windows it had had were covered and the bas-relief work with religious motifs disappeared and were replaced by others that extolled patriotic virtues. The same tension that pulsed between the living of Paris was also experienced among the dead. Some bodies of revolutionaries buried in the Pantheon were expelled for being considered traitors.

It was Napoleon who in 1806 returned its religious nature to the Pantheon. But the revolution of 1830 once again divested it of this condition of church to become the “Temple of Glory”, to return in 1851 with Napoleon III to be a church again. It was the death of Victor Hugo that finally converted the pantheon into a republican monument. More than one million people accompanied the mortal remains of the writer to his final resting place.

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