When I walk down nearby rue Beaubourg in the evening, heading towards l’Hotel de Ville, I can see it mildly aglow, hovering near Notre Dame’s towers on the horizon.
The Panthéon sits on Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, a hill in the Latin Quarter of the 5e arrondissement. It was commissioned by King Louis XV in the mid-18th century as a church to honour Ste. Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.
It is ideal to visit this place on a scorching hot day like we did in September(!), but it is also free to visit on the first Sunday of the month from November to March. And when you enter from the beautiful, breezy portico of Corinthian columns out front, inside you are greeted with a wide expanse of light and space, adorned with imposing sculptures, massive frescos and airy cupolas…
Foucault’s pendulum is also in full swing (ha ha!) at the Panthéon. The French physicist demonstrated the rotation of the Earth in that very same place in 1851. (The original pendulum was returned to Le Musée des Arts et Métiers where it was on demonstration and not well-protected, finally leading to its irreparable damage in April, 2010. Now the original is only “on display” while a smaller pendulum functions to demonstrate Foucault‘s experiment. I am still aghast over this.)
During the French Revolution, Ste. Geneviève’s church was changed to a mausoleum where great French people were interred. The crypt is huge. Funnily enough, the first person to be buried there in 1791 (comte de Mirabeau, French Revolutionary), was disinterred in 1794. [He turned out to be not-so-great.] So a couple of people have been removed, or gone missing(!) or have been moved in from elsewhere (like author, Alexandre Dumas, père, in 2002) as post-recognition. But many have been directly buried here and stayed put after passing the ‘greatness’ assessment. I wonder who is in charge of that?
The crypt was cool and dimly lit, and after some exploration, the kiddos sat in the corridor with Daddy while I covered all the various wings. [I know what you’re thinking: what’s with me and visiting dead people?! But these dead people aren’t scary…]
We were also in time for the tour of the rooftop of the Panthéon, which is free but limited to 50 people at a time. There were a lot of steps to climb, however, the tour was casual-paced with several breaks in between to take photos. I never saw so many churches before as I did from this viewpoint. From the Panthéon‘s rooftop, you really feel you are in the heart of Paris. I could see le jardin du Luxembourg and St. Sulpice church, and in the other direction, be close up to l’Eglise Saint-Étienne-du-Mont and la Bibliothèque Ste.-Genevieve. I wish I took more photographs…
It was a nice visit crowned by cokes and ice creams at a nearby café in the trendy hood of the Latin Quarter. Hmmm, do you think we’ll have our kids trained on French pastries and cheese by the end of our stint?!