Pantheon is a church-like building in Paris, France’s Latin Quarter that now serves as a tourist attraction and mausoleum. In this post, we’ll share photos from the Pantheon, tips & info for visiting, and review whether it’s worth your time and money.
Originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve and to house the reliquary châsse containing her relics, the Pantheon now serves primarily as a really cool-looking building. It’s also a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens, including Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Marie Curie, Jean Moulin, and Voltaire.
The Pantheon is a bit removed from the main tourist center of Paris, but with a location just to the east of Luxembourg Gardens and in the heart of the Latin Quarter, it’s hardly out of the way. At some point or another, most people will be in this neighorhood during their visits to France. Despite this, we don’t recommend the Pantheon to everyone.
The history of the Pantheon is an interesting one. Its construction was ordered in 1744, when King Louis XV vowed that if he recovered from his illness he would replace the decrepit church of the Abbey of St Genevieve with an edifice worthy of the patron saint of Paris.
Architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot designed the Pantheon to be a church, and his plan was either ambitious or an exercise in excess, depending upon the perspective.
Construction started in 1758, but the church wasn’t finished until the eve of the French Revolution in 1790 due to economic and other issues with construction.
In 1806, Napoleon visited to allocate funds to ongoing work on the Pantheon, and decreed that the building was a Catholic church under the double invocation of Saint-Geneviève and of Saint-Napoleon.
At that time, the crypt of the church continued as a burial place for dignitaries of France. Thereafter, the Pantheon bounced back and forth between church and mausoleum a few more times, and stands today solely as a burial place.
From an architectural perspective, the Pantheon is stunning. The building’s layout is in the form of a massive Greek cross (remember, it was built as a church) and its design features Corinthian columns and massive domes held up by hidden flying buttresses.
There’s a strong influence of Greek architecture, and in the upper section is a fresco of with the Apotheosis of Saint Genevieve.
As noted above, we don’t recommend the Pantheon to everyone visiting Paris. Those to whom we do we recommend the Pantheon: everyone using the Paris Museum Pass (which we also highly recommend everyone purchase).
We’ve bought the Paris Museum Pass on each of our last few trips to France. If you’re a first-time visitor, this pass is a must-buy. Even if you’ve been to Paris before, there’s a good chance the pass will offer enough value (between admission costs and convenience of skipping ticket lines) to justify buying one.
If you’re not using the Paris Museum Pass, it’s a trickier question. We thought the Pantheon is absolutely stunning, but it’s a bit empty. Both figuratively and literally. In the upper area, it resembles a lavish church, but one that’s been partially gutted.
This open upper level is gorgeous, but you could peruse it within a span of 30 minutes or (even that might be too much) and be good to go. There’s a lot to see, but much of it is high above in the domes, so you cannot exactly pore over every detail.
From this perspective, I cannot think of anything about the Pantheon’s architecture that makes it essential when placed alongside other Paris must-do attractions like Palais Garnier, Les Invalides, Grand Palais, or France’s many churches and cathedrals.
Obviously, some of the aforementioned attractions are very different in purpose and style from the Pantheon, but the underlying impression they give to visitors is comparable.
The Pantheon’s mausoleum is also interesting; interment in the Pantheon is severely restricted and is allowed only by a parliamentary act for National Heroes of France.
There are statues, plaques, and information placards at some of the crypts. It’s arguably more information-dense than the upper areas of the Pantheon, but far less beautiful.
This review probably reads more harshly than intended. The Pantheon is awesome, and we love it. With the Paris Museum Pass and several days in the city, it’s an absolute must do.
Our critique above is more geared towards those with limited time who don’t want to pay admission fees to every single ‘awesome’ point of interest in Paris.
Unfortunately(?), the city has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to awe-inspiring architecture. It may not be entirely fair to compare this to Palais Garnier or other spots in Paris, but if your time is limited or you’re on a budget, that’s exactly what you’ll have to do. In that context, we think the Pantheon does not quite measure up to your other relatively-comparable alternatives in France. If you’re on the Paris Museum Pass or have at least 3 days in the city, it’s a must-do, but it’s a close call for everyone else.
If you’re planning a trip to France, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Paris, France to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about France for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited the Pantheon in Paris, France? What did you think of the experience? Do you consider it among the must-see architecture in Paris? Did you prefer it to other places like Palais Garnier or Notre Dame? Would you recommend this museum to a first-timer visiting France? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does the Pantheon interest you? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!