Located at the Place du Pantheon in the 5th Arrondissement, the Pantheon in Paris was commissioned in the mid 18th century by Louis XV. The story goes, that during an illness, Louis XV made a vow that if he recovered, he would replace the ruined church of the Abbey of Saint Genevieve. Although originally commissioned as a church, mainly due to financial reasons, it was not completed until after the Revolution, at which time, churches had become unpopular, so it was transformed into a temple commemorating those individuals considered to be the good and the great of France.
In 1755, the Marquis of Marigny, who had been allotted the task of building the church, commissioned the architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot to design the replacement of the 6th century basilica, known as Abbey of Saint Genevieve. Construction of the imposing building started 2 years later, and took 34 years to complete. After the Revolution, the building was adapted by architect Quatremere de Quincy to its new function as a pantheon. In 1806 the building was converted back into a church, but reverted to a pantheon again in 1885 and now serves as an emblem of civic pride for the whole of France.
The ground floor of the building is in the form of a cross, and measures 110 metres in length, has a breath of 85 metres, with the dome rising 85 metres. The inscription above the main entrance reads AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE (To great men the Nation is grateful). To be interred in the Pantheon is the French nations highest honour.
The Pantheon's interior is well worth a visit with its odd mix of Classical Greek and Gothic styles. Also on display is a working model of Foucault's Pendulum swinging from the dome. The French physicist Leon Foucault devised an experiment, which was conducted at the Pantheon in 1851. It was designed to demonstrate the rotation of the earth. The pendulum, over a 24 hour period appeared to rotate, it was in fact the earth that was rotating so producing the effect. At the time, the demonstration was very popular and drew huge crowds. Foucault's original pendulum is now on view at the Musee des Arts et Metiers.
Extending beneath the entire is the crypt, which today houses 40 or so well known members of the First Empire. Also can be found are the tombs of such luminaries as, Emile Zola, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jean Jaures, Jean Moulin, Jean Monnet, Andre Malraux, and the only female to be interred in the Pantheon, Marie Curie. The tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau have been moved to the entrance gallery. In all there are 67 tombs and burial vaults.
From the colonnade around the dome of the Pantheon, there are magnificent views over the city of Paris. The Pantheon itself is best viewed coming from the direction of the Jardin du Luxembourg through the rue Soufflot.