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HISTORY

When the French king Louis XV was recovering from illness, he promised that if he recovered, he would build a church to replace the half-ruined Abbey of St. Genevieve. However, due to lack of funds, the project did not begin until 1755. And thus the renowned architect Soufflot designed this beautiful monument based on a classical prototype - a dome with a Latin cross fronted by a Greek temple facade - which rightly reflects its name (Pantheon literally means heavens for Greek gods). However, during the construction, Soufflot passed away and the church which is known today as the Pantheon, was finally completed in 1789 - the year of the French Revolution. This is a spectacular realisation of classical design surmounted by a huge dome.


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DESIGN

The most spectacular aspect of the Pantheon is its colossal size. On the ground floor, in the form of a huge cross, it has a length of 110m (352 ft) and a breadth of 85m (272 ft). The dome with its height of 85m (272 ft) inspired the French physicist Leon Foucault to carry out his first experiments with the pendulum in the mid-19th century. He demonstrated the rotation of the earth on its axis.

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USE & EVOLUTION

By the late 18th and 19th century, the Pantheon became an honoured mausoleum to "receive the bodies of great men who died in the history of French liberty". The windows were closed, thus enforcing the solemnity of the interior. The building alternated between being a church and a mausoleum throughout the last century. In 1985, following the collapse of stone work in the vaults, it has had to be closed for an indefinite period. Yet, one can still visit the crypt. In the crypt lies the mortal remains of France's honoured great men : Mirabeau, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo and Zola joined recently by humanist novelist André Malraux. When Francois Mitterrand came into office as the first Socialist president of the Fifth Republic, his first official visit was to the Pantheon. There, he laid down a rose which is the symbol of the Socialist Party, in memory of Jean Jaures, the Socialist leader who was murdered in 1914.

ST-ETIENNE-DU-MONT - shrine of St Genevieve

In the neighbourhood of the Pantheon on the corner of rue Clovis, lies another older church dating back to from the 16-century - of St-Etienne-du-Mont. This church combines Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements. Herein, lies the shrine of Saint Genevieve - patron saint of Paris from the 5th century. According to history, St Geneviève saved Paris and its inhabitants from the cruelty of Attila the Hun in 451 A.D. With the help of the archdeacon of Auxerre, she persuaded the panic-stricken people of Paris not to leave their homes and to pray. The intercession of Genevieve's prayers caused Attila's army to go to Orléans instead. Later on during Childeric's siege and the blockade of Paris in 464 A.D., Geneviève passed through the siege lines to Troyes, to bring grain to the city. She also pleaded to Childeric for the welfare of prisoners of war. Later, at the request of Genevieve, Clovis I - the first christian king of France liberated captives and showed greater lenience to wrongdoers.

Clovis I founded an abbey for Genevieve, where she was later buried after her death. Nearby were also the convents of Benedictine sisters. In 847 A.D. it was plundered by the Vikings. It is believed that in 1129 A.D., when the city was suffering from an epidemic of ergot poisoning, this "burning sickness" was stayed after St Genevieve's relics were carried in a public procession around Paris. Since then, the saint's relics are carried in a yearly procession and the relief from the epidemic is still commemorated in the churches of Paris.

The interior of the church is divided into three aisles by free-standing pillars connected by a narrow knave, and flooded with light by an exceptionally tall clerestory. The only rood screen in Paris is also in this Renaissance-style building. The clock tower tour Clovis is situated in lycee Henri IV adjacent to the church. This is the last surviving part of the abbey of Sainte Genevieve.

NEAR AND AROUND

From this place a few steps takes one to la Sorbonne along the Rue Cujas. Founded by the canon Robert de Sorbon, confessor to Saint Louis, this building still contains a section of the Arts Faculty, and some of the offices of the Paris Academy. Descending from the church in a southerly direction one arrives at the rue Mouffetard traditional market and the lively Place de la Contrescarpe, with its beautiful fountain and its typically Parisian cafés and bars open till the wee hours of the morning. On the other direction, if one goes around Pantheon and down Rue Soufflot, one descends to the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg, in a few minutes stroll. It is a lovely walk on a late summer evening and if you are a jogger you will fall in love with the jogging paths inside the idyllic Luxembourg Gardens. A favorite Hemingway story has to do with him catching and roasting pigeons from the park; nevertheless, there is no clear record or confirmation of his story by other sources.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:
(please verify with the Paris Tourism office)

Place du Panthéon, 75005 Paris
Open: Winter: 10 a.m.-5.30 p.m. - Summer: 9.30 a.m.-6.30 p.m.
Prices: Standard : 35,00 FF
Special rates : 23,00 FF
5,34 and 3,51 euros

Closed: Bank holidays

Metro (Line 10): Cardinal Lemoine
RER (Line B):Luxembourg

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