Yet another of the Latin Quarter’s majestic architectural wonders, the Pantheon sits atop Montagne St. Genevieve, not far from La Sorbonne. Originally built as a church, this unimaginably large building is now known as a famous burial place where France’s main public figures are put to eternally rest.
While suffering from a mysterious yet serious illness, King Louis XV vowed he would build a church dedicated to St. Geneviève if he survived, replacing the 6th century, run-down Abbey of Sainte-Geneviève.
He obviously did recover and so, the Pantheon was born. In 1755, the king entrusted the Marquis of Marigny with the project and architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot was commissioned to design a church worthy of France’s national patron saint.
The result was nothing but spectacular: the Pantheon is unmistakably enormous at 110 m (361 ft) long, 84 m (275 ft) wide and 83 m (272 ft) high. Its neoclassical style was inspired on the Pantheon in Rome and both attractions not only share their names but actually look quite the same: the only thing setting them apart from a distance is a small dome atop the Pantheon in Paris.
An inscription above the Pantheon’s entrance reads AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE (“The Nation Acknowledges These Great Men”) and its crypt contains the vaults of Voltaire, Rousseau, Marat, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Jean Moulin, Louis Braille, René Descartes, Emile Zola, Soufflot (its architect) and Marie Curie (the only woman), among others.
Once inside the Pantheon, don’t miss the renowned recreation of Foucault’s Pendulum, the experiment by Leon Foucault that finally proved that the Earth revolved around the Sun. A tribute to rational thought and reason, Foucault’s Pendulum gently contrasts with the Pantheon’s religious raison d'être.
And before entering its vast crypt, make sure to stop and see the remarkable frescoes depicting scenes from St. Geneviève’s life. Then, take a guided tour of the colonnade around the dome, and appreciate the Pantheon’s breathtaking views of Paris – the perfect way to end a perfect visit.
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