Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paris' Best #3: The Pantheon

 Here is a little-known activity that you should include on your trip to Paris: a tour of the Pantheon. It is an exquisite building that is off the beaten path and not very busy, at least it wasn't busy the Sunday that we went there. The surrounding area is full of closely packed tall buildings, and then as your round a corner, the buildings open up and there it is!
 I don't remember what it cost to get in, but it wasn't much. As soon as you enter, the first thing that will strike you is the beauty and scale of it.
 It is eerily quiet in the building, as it's sheer size and mass seem to cause people to speak in hushed tones out of respect.
 At the center, there is a gold Foucault Pendulum that swings back and forth. Leon Foucault installed this pendulum in the Pantheon in 1851 as the first easy-to-see experiement that offered proof of the earth's rotation, though it was already an accepted fact at that time. To this day, the pendulum moves 11 degrees an hour as it swings back and forth, making a full circle in 32.7 hours.
 King Louis XV vowed in 1744 that if he recovered from an illness, he would replace the ruined Sainte-Genevieve church with a new monument to the patron saint of Paris.The foundation of the Pantheon was laid in 1758 and the building was completed in 1789. This was bad timing as it was the start of the French Revolution, and the new Revolutionary government ordered it converted from a church to a mausoleum for the interment of great Frenchman.
 Over the years, changes have been made to the Pantheon including the addition of many of the statues, and murals replaced the original windows along the perimeter to reduce the amount of light
 The building is showing its age as parts are undergoing restoration, and netting can be seen in some places along the ceiling to ensure that the ornate decorations do not fall on some unsuspecting visitor (note: I have seen similar netting in Washington, DC). There were many displays downstairs outlining the history of the building. Of particular interest is that authorities in the 1700s insisted the architect reinforce the stone building - the worry was that there was so much weight from the stone that the building would not stand the test of time. So, metal straps were added inside the walls as reinforcement. Unfortunately, today it is the metal straps that are deteriorating and weakening the building. Steps are underway to do repairs.

 We also discovered that there was an underground crypt that was as large as the floor level. If you visit the Pantheon, most definitely do not overlook visiting the crypt! This is where many important French citizens from the past reside. We are not going to show you their individual crypts - we have to save something for you to see when you visit! - but here are a few of the placards that we passed..

 After about 3 hours, we returned to reality and exited the building. I didn't really want to, but hey that's life.
Looking straight out the front, some intelligent city designer has ensured there is a clear, unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower. Very nice. Please do yourself a favor and reserve about 3 hours to see this magnificent building....one of the best jewels of Paris.
Time Required: 2-3 hours
Stairs, main level: less than 25
Stairs, crypt: 25-50
Stairs, upper levels: probably lots (we didn't go there)
What to bring: camera
Photos were taken with: Olympus C-5060


Sandy said...

Another interesting post and photos.

Wasn't there a novel called Focault's Pendulum...I remember my son telling me about it and saying I would enjoy it.

I will never get to visit there because I don't like to fly. So thanks for sharing all these great places...

Gwen Buchanan said...

J, you have done such a fine job.. the pendulum ... I'm in awe... and I saw reference to Victor Hugo.. great!

I loved the intricate view looking to the heights of the structure...

It is so fascinating, Thank you so much... such history to walk through; no wonder the hushed tones...

J said...

Thanks Sandy and Gwen!