31 July 2013

Paris domes: Le Panthéon

My personal experience of Paris started around the base of the Panthéon, a building designed as a church in the old Greek style and built in the years just before the French Revolution. When it was finished, the Revolutionaries, who didn't much care for churches, "repurposed" the Panthéon as a gigantic tomb to the great, the mighty, the literary, and the erudite of France. « Aux grands hommes, la Patrie reconnaissante » is the place's motto.

Repair and restoration work is under way at the Panthéon, in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

Some of the luminaries entombed in the Panthéon's crypt are Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Louis Braille, Victor Schoelcher, Jean Moulin, and Jean Monnet. These days, it's up to the Président de la République Française to decide who gets a tomb in the crypt of the Panthéon, but families can veto the order. That's what happened in 2009 when the government wanted to inter the remains of the existentalist writer Albert Camus in the Panthéon. The family said no thanks.

The dome of the Panthéon seen from the top of the Tour St-Jacques, across the Seine.

In the spring of 1970, I was a student down in Aix-en-Provence. I decided to spend my two-week spring vacation in Paris. I stayed in a hotel just down the way on the boulevard Saint-Germain. From nearby streets, you could get good views of the Panthéon. In 1972, I returned to Paris and spent a night or two in the Hôtel des Grands Hommes right across the street from the Panthéon. The hotel was a real dive, dilapidated and ancient — read "cheap" — when I stayed there, but now it has been renovated into a mult-starred palace. Oh, and I spent one night in a jail cell right across the street from the Panthéon in 1970!

The Pantheon in its urban context, on a hill not far from Notre-Dame cathedral

In 1974-75, I worked for the University of Illinois Year Abroad program just down the street from the Panthéon on the rue Soufflot, and also just a few steps from the east gate of the Jardin du Luxembourg. (Now you know more than you ever thought you'd know.) I've stayed a few times at the Hôtel des Carmes, from where you have a fine view of the Panthéon up a narrow street at the top of the hill. In 2009, friends of mine stayed at the Hôtel du Panthéon, and I went to Paris to spend some time with them around the Panthéon and in other parts of Paris.

Don't confuse the Panthéon with this other domed church at Les Invalides, as I've known people to do.
Napoleon's Tomb is in this building.

So more than Notre-Dame, the Louvre, or Les Halles, Le Panthéon is the center of Paris for me. After all, it sits in classical majesty on a hill (grandly called a montagne) overlooking what was Roman Paris more than 2000 years ago. The view of the Panthéon from the top of the Tour St-Jacques last Friday was probably the best I've ever enjoyed. The building is being renovated, as you can see from the big construction crane that towers over it right now.


  1. On the first photo, the church with the small dôme, on the horizon, on the right of the Panthéon, is the Gentilly church and the one on the extreme right, is the half dôme [!] of the Val de Grâce church. I guess the long concrete building is the "new" École de Médecine, near St-Germain-des-Prés.

  2. The 5th is my favorite neighborhood for visiting- love the Lux garden. We were very lucky to get a deal for the hotel du Pantheon which is now expensive. You can see the tour eiffel from the Pantheon entrance.

    I'm enjoying your photos taken from the St Jacques tower and CHM filling it the details.

  3. CHM, this photo isn't looking at all toward St-Germain-des-Prés. Maybe that building is down at the Tolbiac university center, or at the Cité Universitaire.

    Evelyn, I remember that the hotel du Panthéon was pretty nice, in a neighborhoody kind of way.

  4. Ken, it's nice to see that you really enjoyed this experience of going up the Tour Saint-Jacques, and getting so many photos-- and seeing the sights from a different perspective than usual. It's fun hearing your memories, too.

    I, too, like the Soufflot/Saint-Michel area.

  5. I don't see how anyone could mistake le Panthéon for Les Invalides, they're so different!

  6. The third photo shows the church, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, on the hill between Notre-Dame and the Panthéon. The steps on the north side of that church are the ones where Owen Wilson waits every night for the Peugeot to transport him back in time in the film, "Midnight in Paris".
    (By the way, great and unique views from la Tour Saint-Jacques. Thanks!)

  7. Once again very nice photos. Can I ask what make and model of camera you use? Looks like lots of pixels.

  8. Hello W J Wirth,

    I use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ8 digital camera. It's mostly automatic, and I have saved settings that do the best for me. I've been taking pictures at 7 megapixels recently (3072 x 2304 pixels) but I have to reduce them to less than half that size for the blog. I love the Lumix cameras, with their LEICA lenses.

  9. Panasonic does a good job with the pixels, as your photos show. Pretty wide range. Guess that's why Panasonic video cameras have all but become the standard in small to medium production houses.


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