The Panthéon

The Panthéon in Paris (not to be confused with the Pantheon in Rome) is one of the places on a must-see list in Paris. The building is relatively new, as it was built in the late XVIII century.

Originally, the Panthéon in Paris was thought to be a church devoted to St. Genevieve. It was commissioned by Louis XV, the great-grandson of Louis XIV, as a votive offering for saving him from illness. This magnificent architectural masterpiece replaced the old church of St. Genevieve. Jacques-Germain Soufflot, a prominent French architect, was entrusted with the design of the Panthéon. His visionary work on the Panthéon began in 1758, and he aimed to create a grand neoclassical edifice that would reflect the intellectual and cultural ideals of the Enlightenment era. Soufflot’s design was heavily influenced by ancient Roman and Greek architecture, characterized by its symmetrical proportions, majestic columns, and ornate details. The Panthéon’s majestic facade, adorned with Corinthian columns, establishes a visual harmony that draws visitors in and captures their imagination. So, as you explore the architectural masterpiece that is the Panthéon, take a moment to reflect on its historical significance and admire the brilliance of Jacques-Germain Soufflot’s vision, a true embodiment of the intellectual and cultural ideals of the Enlightenment era.

The construction works lasted from 1764 to 1789 and ended just at the outburst of the French Revolution (to be exact, its first wave marked by the demolition of the Bastille). As commonly known, the French Revolution promoted the civil and secular society. Thus, in 1791, the National Constituent Assembly (at this time a sort of revolutionary government in France) decided to convert the newly constructed church into a burial site, a kind of civil temple (a pantheon), for the ‘the great men of the epoch of French liberty.’

Although from this time on, the building was indeed serving as the Panthéon, its secular status was not preserved for long. Till 1885, alongside with political changes in revolutionary France (Republic vs. Empire) it regained twice its sacred status. In its construction structure, the building resembles a church (it has a cross pattern). The very impressive frescoes depicting scenes of St. Genevieve’s life are still well-preserved. Still, the Panthéon is an entirely secular building now. In the interiors, you will find some other sculptures depicting scenes of revolutionary France. The actual Pantheon, the burial site of famous French, is located below the building in the crypt. The crypt is kept very simple. Most of the burial sites are found in small cells with up to five tombs. Only selected ones are additionally decorated.

Below some photo impressions of this impressive building and its interiors.

One of the most striking features of the Pantheon in Paris is its massive dome. Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, the dome is a prominent architectural element visible from both the interior and exterior. The dome is supported by a colonnaded portico with Corinthian columns. The portico has a triangular pediment adorned with sculptures, depicting important events from French history. The use of sculptural reliefs or statuary in pediments was a common practice in neoclassical architecture, serving to convey symbolic messages and commemorate important events or figures.

The interior of the temple at the ground level

The interior of the Panthéon in Paris is as impressive as its exterior, featuring a combination of neoclassical design elements and a rich historical and cultural significance. It has a cross-shaped floor plan, with the dome situated at the intersection of the arms of the cross. The central dome is a prominent feature of the interior. The dome’s oculus (an opening at the top) allows natural light to filter into the space. This layout is typical of many neoclassical churches and public buildings. The interior is richly decorated with sculptures and murals. The themes depicted in the murals may reflect the evolving values and priorities of French society. For instance, as the Panthéon transitioned from being a church to a secular mausoleum, the artistic themes shifted to align with the ideals of the French Republic.

The National Convention statue and the Towards Glory fresco triptique at the back wall

As you enter and look straight forward at the spot where you would find an altar in a church, instead you see a monument devoted to the National Convention. National Convention was the first French assembly elected in 1792 by a suffrage without distinctions of class. Behind it, there is a fresco called Towards Glory depicting the Napoleonic wars (Napoleonic wars followed after the First French Republic was converted into the French Empire by Napoleon Bonaparte).

Inside the crypt

The Panthéon in Paris serves as the final resting place for numerous notable French citizens, and their interment within its walls reflects their significant contributions to various fields. Here are some of the notable individuals buried in the Panthéon:

  1. Voltaire (1694–1778): The renowned Enlightenment writer and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet, known by his pen name Voltaire, was interred in the Panthéon in 1791. His writings had a profound influence on the intellectual landscape of the 18th century.
  2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778): Another influential philosopher of the Enlightenment, Rousseau’s ideas on democracy and political philosophy left a lasting impact. His remains were transferred to the Panthéon in 1794.
  3. Victor Hugo (1802–1885): The esteemed French writer, poet, and playwright, Victor Hugo, author of “Les Misérables” and “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” was buried in the Panthéon in 1885.
  4. Émile Zola (1840–1902): The famous novelist and playwright, best known for works like “Germinal” and “Nana,” was interred in the Panthéon in 1908. His writings often addressed social and political issues of his time.
  5. Marie Curie (1867–1934): The pioneering physicist and chemist, Marie Curie, renowned for her groundbreaking research on radioactivity, was the first woman to be interred in the Panthéon in 1995.
  6. Marie Curie (1867–1934): The inventor of the Braille system, which revolutionized written communication for the visually impaired, Louis Braille’s remains were transferred to the Panthéon in 1952.
  7. Jean Jaurès (1859–1914): A prominent socialist leader and pacifist, Jean Jaurès played a significant role in French politics. His remains were transferred to the Panthéon in 1924.
  8. René Descartes (1596–1650): Although Descartes passed away long before the construction of the Panthéon, his remains were moved to the Panthéon in 1819 as a posthumous honor for his contributions to philosophy and mathematics.
The Panthéon