Visiting Paris: The Panthéon

Paris is a city full of history. A city that many remarkable individuals have called home, lived and died for. So it’s only natural that Paris would lay its most illustrious children to rest in an absolutely fabulous, and grand building. That’s the Panthéon. 

The Panthéon’s dome dominates the 5th arrondissement’s Latin Quarter. It’s nothing short but a majestic building. It wasn’t built as a shrine, initially, it was built as a church, and has a lot of the revolution’s influence inside of it.

Originally, the Panthéon was supposed to be a church dedicated to St. Genevieve. Murals illustrating her life were added later on to the inside walls of the Panthéon

Today, the Panthéon enshrines France’s most beloved children, and those who’ve made France their home and have made remarkable contributions in the arts, science, politics, philosophy, national identity and sovereignty, etc. 

Think about a famous French figure from history. Not Napoleon, he’s at the Invalides chapel (which we didn’t get to this time…next time). But so many of the famous French that you hear from in history books, they’re quite possibly buried here: 

  • Rousseau
  • Voltaire 
  • Madam Curie and her husband, Pierre
  • Victor Hugo
  • Louis Braille 
  • Emile Zola
  • Alexandre Dumas

Plus a number of French Revolution and World Wars heroes…

And there is still space. 

It was incredibly surprising to see that as of a few weeks prior to our visit, Josephine Baker, the American singer, dancer, and actress, was the newest person to be laid in the Panthéon. Turns out, that after not being allowed to perform in some US venues due to her race, she moved to France, where she continued to build her celebrity and later joined the French army/spied for the French during World War II. 

I had no idea. 

It’s one of those examples of how multidimensional people’s lives can be, and how their greatest work may happen in unexpected ways. It was incredibly cool to see not just her tomb, but the photo exhibit around the Panthéon talking about her life and all of her work. 

The Panthéon’s lobby also has this representation of how the Earth rotates on its axis. You can see the rotation here:

So who’s the Panthéon for?

  • Architecture lovers: this is a great example of Neoclassical architecture (see columns, and dome!), which isn’t the most common in European churches (this was supposed to be a church!)…I actually think it fits its current use very well! 
  • History buffs: Look at the list above. I mean, those names are so incredibly engrained in French history, and their contributions are so far reaching, that it’s very exciting to visit a place that has such significance. 
  • Travelers that want to visit ALL the landmarks: The whole building shouldn’t take more than two hours, even with pausing time at the crypts. And when you’re done, you can go to any of the multiple cafes in the streets nearby, and explore the Latin Quartier. 

Stepping into a piece of history is always special. This one is a building, and the people enshrined in it. But Paris itself is history. This is one where missing out or not will depend on your personal preferences for sightseeing and your interest in history. Even if you don’t go in, go admire the building, then go find an outdoor table, grab a coffee or a wine, and look back to admire it from afar, as Cameron masterfully demonstrates here:

How to be Parisian: stare into the distance pensively and sip wine.

In conclusion, this is not the attraction that will take the most of your time, but it sure is an important showcase of how rich France’s history is.

Our Paris chronicles are not over – coming up, we’ll show you why you should go to the Eiffel Tower at night. See you at the next blog! – Ana

Published by Team McGregor

Living and teaching in the Middle East - previously in China, South Korea, and Hawaii (US). This is our blog dedicated to our travels and life living abroad...as well as some other fun stuff!

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