I mentioned that I’ve been enjoying exploring the Left Bank a bit more, starting with a visit to the Jardin des Plantes. Well, that was just the beginning of my outing last Sunday. After I warmed up to Left Bank, I continued on over to another sight I had passed by often but still never stepped foot inside: the Pantheon.
Maybe I should back up a bit. Pantheons aren’t just for Rome - Paris has one too (inspired by Rome’s). It is situated in the 5th arrondissement in the Latin Quarter. King Louis XV of France was very ill and vowed to rebuild the church dedicated to Sainte-Geneviève (patron saint of Paris) if he was healed. He did recover, and commissioned the Pantheon in 1744.
What we see today though is no longer a church for Sainte-Geneviève. The Pantheon has experienced a personality disorder of sorts. The church was completed right after the French Revolution and religious institutions were on the decline. It became dedicated in honor of great Frenchmen. Over its history it has been reverted back to a church twice, going back and forth between being a temple to God or man.
Today it stands to honor great men in history. Buried in the crypt are legendary figures like Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean Jaurès, and Marie Curie. The interior of the Pantheon is immense and still feels church-like, but not one.
One reason I really wanted to visit the Pantheon now was to see JR’s installation, Inside Out. Using portraits that were uploaded online as well as collected at the “photo booth truck,” people’s faces cover the floor of the Pantheon, the interior of the dome, and the drum of the dome outside.
The installation was really well done, and I especially loved getting to see it looking down from the balcony. But to be honest, if that project wasn't being displayed, I found the Pantheon to be a skippable attraction given the price of admission. Maybe this isn't a completely fair assessment, given that the building is under major restoration at the moment. It is undergoing a 10-year project that will cost €100 million. Foucault’s pendulum no longer swings from the dome (at the moment, anyway) and visitors cannot climb up to the dome, given the construction. So this is my assessment at the moment, keeping an open mind in the future when this massive undertaking is complete.
In the meantime though, if you are looking for a grand Neoclassical building to go inside, you may want to skip the Pantheon for now and head over to La Madeleine. This large church is free to enter and is similar in style. I would opt for the later option (though if it's before October 5th, consider catching JR's installation). Both fall into my category of "really big, pretty buildings" that are fun to wander in and marvel at the sheer immensity.
Have you ever been to the Pantheon in Paris? What did you think?
PLAN YOUR TRIP:
Place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris, France
Open daily; April 1-September 30: 10:00am-6:30pm, October 1-March 31: 10:00am-6:00pm
(Closed January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th)
Admission: Regular price is €7.50, Reduced price of €4.50 for ages 18-25, Free for those under the age of 18 (prices as of August 2014)
And ideas for afterwards -
- Pop into one of my favorite churches in Paris, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont (features two gorgeous spiral staircases in the choir screen). Make sure you see the steps outside too if you watched Midnight in Paris - that’s where Gil (played by Owen Wilson) picks up his ride to the past.
- Head over to the Bombardier or Académie de la Bière for a beer.
- Stop by L’Ecurie for one of the most reasonable priced meals in Paris and feel like you’re stepping back in time in this small French restaurant. (See Messy Nessy Chic’s experience here too.) Don’t be surprised if the server brings you a glass of sangria when you sit down - it’s on the house.