The Pantheon, a great building for the “great men”

The Pantheon is a building with an interesting background. It was originally commissioned by King Louis XV in 1755. He had a serious illness, and apparently made a deal with God that he would build a church if he recovered, and sure enough when he did, he commissioned what was originally called Abbey Sainte-Geneviève.

Pantheon Front

An imposing front entrance. Doesn't feel like a church at all, but then it was altered from its original drawings a number of times, so who knows what the original plan was.


A dome borrowed from Rome, atop a massive building that looks like a medieval fortress.

Unfortunately, it took 34 years to complete, and when it was finished in 1791, the French revolution was in full swing, and churches were distinctly unpopular (BTW, during this time the Notre Dame was used to store hay and supplies, and came close to being torn down). So it was decided it would be converted into a temple to house the remains of “the great men of France”, and indeed today a crypt holds the ashes of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean Monnet, Marie and Pierre Curie and Emile Zola (Marie Curie is a great man?).

Pantheon & Steps

Here it is from the back coming up the hill. Recognize the steps on the left? Woody Allen's now famous steps from Midnight in Paris. Wait for the bells at midnight and the party car chugs up this curving street. Paris is so magical, you can easily believe this would happen.

Pantheon Eiffel Tower

Stand in front of the Pantheon and turn around and you'll be looking down Rue Soufflot, named after the Pantheon's architect. It takes you down to the Luxembourg Gardens. And like so many Parisian views, you can see the Eiffel Tower in the background.

But that wasn’t the end of it. In 1806 it became a church again, but in 1885 it reverted back to the Pantheon. Wait a few years, and it may become a church again.

Cafe Accordion

The Pantheon is neighbours with the Sorbonne and what used to be inexpensive student cafés and restaurants. Prices may have gone up as the neighbourhood gentrified, but the cafés are still very popular.

Bombardier Pub

If everything is getting just too French for you, and you're missing a taste of "over 'ome", well this might be the place. Right across from the church...

From our apartment, it was just a 10-minute walk up the hill. I think for many visitors, it’s in a neighbourhood that isn’t as clearly defined as many others in Paris. It’s still in the 5th arrondisement, and indeed the square houses the magnificent City Hall of the 5th (did you know that each arrondisement has its own City Hall, and assumedly, the bureaucracy that comes with it), but I think when most people picture the 5th, they’re thinking about the part closer to the Seine.

5th Arrondisement City Hall

So, twenty arrondisements, and each has it's own city hall. That is SO Parisian. Imagine the duplication of effort! But so what....

Paris Hotel & Apts

The Great Men of Paris Hotel on the right (what a name!), with classic Parisian apartments on the edge of the square.

We walked through this square a few times, but never did make it inside the Pantheon despite being on my To Do list. Next time….

Philosophy Books

They take philosophy seriously here. There are a number of "philo-cafés" in the city where points of view are debated with Gallic passion. Bone up on your Montaigne before you go.

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