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 it was thought to be a church devoted to St. Genevieve, commissioned by Louis XV (the great grand son of Luis XIV) as a votive offering for saving him from illness. It replaced the old church of St. Genevieve. 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 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 a 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 the revolutionary France (Republic vs. Empire >>>) it regained twice its sacred status.
Although in its construction structure the building resembles a church (it has a cross pattern), and the very impressive frescoes depicting scenes of St. Genevieve life are still well-preserved, the Panthéon is a fully secular building now. As you enter and look straight at the spot where in a church you would find an altar you will see a monument devoted to the National Convention (the first French assembly elected in 1792 by a suffrage without distinctions of class) and behind it a fresco called Towards Glory depicting the Napoleonic wars >>> (that followed after the First French Republic was converted into the French Empire by Napoleon Bonaparte). In the interiors you will find some other sculptures depicting scenes of the 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 burial sites are located in small cells with up to five tombs. Only selected ones are additionally decorated.
The exterior, with the impressive Corinthian columns
The interior of the temple at the ground level
The National Convention statue and the Towards Glory fresco triptique at the back wall
Inside the crypt
JMA, Paris, February 2017
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