When most people think "Pantheon," they think Rome, but Paris's Panthéon (of course based on the Roman version) is historic, stunning, and well-worth a trip to the Left Bank.
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While I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to a trip to the Louis Vuitton store during my trip to Paris, but I'd also be lying if I said I wasn't a giant nerd who couldn't want to visit the Panthéon. Like many of France's great public buildings, the Panthéon is one of those wonderful amalgamations of religion, Revolution, secularism, and architectural resurrection.
How to Get to the Parisian Panthéon
You'll hardly need direction, as - similar to its neighbor, Les Invalides - you'll be able to see the Panthéon's dome from many vantage points around Paris. And, the Panthéon is extremely easy to incorporate into any day in Paris - located just across the Seine on Paris's Left Bank. For more about spending a day on the Left Bank, check out the full post. The Luxembourg Gardens and the Sorbonne are both unmissable while you're in the Latin Quarter.
If you're arriving via Metro, the station will depend on where you're coming from - Cardinal Lemoine is quite close, but you really can't go wrong (it's a nice area).
History of the Paris Panthéon
By 1744, the Abbey of St. Genevieve was in ruins - located in Paris's historic Latin Quarter, it had once been a significant monastery, purported to have been founded by Clovis in 502 AD.
King Louis XV (grandfather of the ill-fated Louis XVI), seriously ill with a fever, promised that, should he recover, he'd replace the abbey church with a monument to St. Genevieve. True to his word, on his recovery, designs were made and construction began in 1757. A triple-domed Greek cross with a huge series of columns and a giant crypt, the basic structure of the church, and some of the art work, remains to this day.
Ironically for the church, it was finally completed in 1790...just in time for the declaration of the dissolution of religious orders by the new Revolutionary government that was taking shape. The National Convention changed use instead, instead, to a large tomb for the burial of France's great sons, with Honore Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau being buried there in 1791.
More History of the Panthéon: La Convention Nationale
Shortly after the Panthéon's completion, with its purpose changed from church to shrine to France, several monuments to the Revolution were erected (though, as you can see above the monument in the image below, interestingly much of the religious art remains).
La Convention Nationale was the first French government to replace on monarchical structure. This legislative structure lasted until 1795, when France devolved into La Terreur "The Reign of Terror." I suppose when you're the legislative body that repurposes a building, there's no need to hold back on the sentimentality in the art?
La Marianne is gorgeous and triumphant, overlooking Foucault's Pendulum (which you can see in the picture above).
Notable Burials at the Parisian Pantheon
An act of the French parliament is required for new burials in the Panthéon - high ranking civil servants do continue to be interred there. The most well-known of the burials include: Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, and the architect of the Pantheon, Jacques-Germain Soufflot.
Alexandre Dumas was not originally buried in the Pantheon, but was moved there in 2002, accompanied by then-French President Jacques Chirac. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of beloved French children's book Le Petit Prince, is celebrated with a plaque in the Panthéon, though his body was never found after he disappeared fighting for the French Resistance in 1944.
Exploring Paris's Left Bank
Just about any direction from the Pantheon, you'll find a slew of cafes and restaurants. We hopped over to Saint-Germaine to Au Vieux Colombier - our first, and best loved, friend in Paris.
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