When most people hear "Pantheon", they picture the beautiful ancient temple in Rome. As it turns out, the Parisian Panthéon, while not as well-known as its namesake in Rome, is nevertheless full of history. It's unfortunately often overlooked by visitors to Paris despite being located in the popular 5th arrondissement.
The Panthéon sits atop the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève, so its dome is easily seen from miles away. This is the view from L'ile Saint-Louis by day and by night.
The current structure replaced the original church which housed the remains of Sainte-Geneviève who led the resistance against the Huns in 451 and became the patron saint of Paris. In 1744 King Louis XV fell ill. He proclaimed that if he recovered he would build a church on the site of the original one dedicated to Sainte-Geneviève. He did indeed recover and construction of the Panthéon began in 1758. Louis died in 1774, however, before the building was completed.
During its history, the Panthéon has served as both a church and a mausoleum for famous French citizens, and it remains a mausoleum today, housing the remains of notable Frenchmen (and some women) in its crypt.
The spacious main hall contains paintings and statues dedicated to Sainte-Geneviève and other French patriots.
In 1851 Léon Foucault, a French physicist, was given permission to hang a 62 pound pendulum 220 ft. from the dome. Its purpose was to show that the plane of the pendulum doesn't change, demonstrating that the earth rotates on its own axis. The current pendulum is a copy of the original which is located in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris. I found it fascinating and mesmerizing.
The interior is imposing and beautiful.
The dome which is constructed from stone, is actually three domes with a painted ceiling on the second dome. It's stunning from below.
Like its namesake in Rome, the Panthéon's columns are Corinthian.
As of this writing, the remains of about 80 people, the vast majority of whom are men, lie in the crypt beneath the Panthéon. The remains of American entertainer Josephine Baker will be moved to the Panthéon prior to the end of 2021. Baker played a key role in France in the resistance against Nazi Germany and will be the first Black woman to be buried there. Other well-known people include Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Marie Curie and Louis Braille.
There is an electronic alphabetical index at the entrance of the crypt if you want to locate certain people.
View from the Dome
As of fall 2021, the entrance price to the Panthéon for adults is 9Euros which includes the crypt. If you want to climb the 200+ steps to the dome (not as terrible as it sounds), it's an extra 3Euros. I went on a cloudless day in the morning and was rewarded by these beautiful views.
This is the Église-Saint-Etienne-du-Mont just behind the Panthéon which houses the relics of Sainte-Geneviève and is definitely worth a visit.
➜ Top Tips
The closest métro station is Cardinal-Lemoine (line 10).
If you want to climb up the dome, go in the morning when the sun is behind you for most of the good views. When we visited (October), the first opportunity to climb up the dome is at 11:00 am and there are others in the afternoon.
Be sure to visit the Crypt while you're there.
Don't miss the Église-Saint-Étienne-du-Mont; it's beautiful. For the Midnight in Paris fans, it's on the steps of this church that Gil (Owen Wilson) waits to be taken back in time each midnight.
The southern part of the 5th arrondissement is full of history and character. Don't miss Place de la Contrescarpe, Hemingway's first apartment at 74, rue du Cardinal Lemoine, and stroll down rue Mouffetard.