Pantheon, Paris: visitors guide
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The Pantheon is situated in the Latin quarter of central Paris, a short distance south of the Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame de Paris. It is one of the neighbourhood’s (the 5th arrondissement) - and indeed the city's - most important landmarks.
Originally commissioned in 1744 as a church, under Louis XV, the Pantheon in Paris wasn’t actually finished until 1789, by which time the revolution had arrived and churches were no longer considered important, so the building became a temple honoring various historical French figures instead.
In terms of architecture this magnificent landmark is an example of the Neoclassicism style popular in the 18th century, and its façade is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. The Pantheon is surmounted by a small dome that looks very much like that of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Following the classical style, the building has a Greek cross plan, and a massive portico of Corinthian columns. This is a vast building, that is 110 meters long and 84 meters wide – and, astonishingly, 83 meters high. The Pantheon looks out over all of Paris.
It is said that Jacques-Germain Soufflot, the architect behind the Pantheon, wanted his building to combine the lightness and brightness of a gothic cathedral with classical architectural principles. Unfortunately, Soufflot died before his plans were realised and his wishes were not fulfilled. Even though his vision was not completed, the Pantheon was still one of the first great neoclassical monuments to be built in Paris, and in fact in the world.
There is an inscription above the entrance to the building that reads AUX HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE which translated broadly means THE GRATEFUL NATION RECOGNISES GREAT MEN.
The inside of the Pantheon is vast. The walls are very ornate, there are several smaller domes and numerous marble columns, and decorated floors. You will also find the crypt where the remains of more than 70 very famous and important historical personalities are interred including Victor Hugo (the first to be buried here), Rousseau, Madame Curie (the only woman to be honored here), Dumas and Voltaire, following the 'grateful nation recognises its great men' theme of the inscription above the entrance.
All this vastness doesn't necessarily mean great beauty however and despite its size, or perhaps because of it, the Pantheon is rather lacking in character. It attempts to combine the classical beauty of the Pantheon in Rome with the beauty of a classical cathedral, but manages to achieve neither.
Visiting the Pantheon
The Pantheon is close to the Sorbonne and the Jardin du Luxembourg, and from the colonnade around the dome you can see out across Paris. Note that this view is only available when you have a guide with you (they are free) and during regular hours – this is all for security reasons.
If you want to see the Pantheon from the streets of Paris, you can see it best from the Jardin du Luxembourg and along the Rue Soufflot between these gardens and the Pantheon. The square around the Pantheon is equally large and features several other grand classical style buildings, as well as an attractive church to the rear of the main entrance.
There is a small entry fee to enter the Pantheon, and the site is open regular business hours most of the year – but we would recommend checking this before you set out. And if you want to see the view from the colonnade you can only do this in the summer or spring, since the colonnade around the dome is closed to the public during the winter months.
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