In France/ Paris

THE PARIS PANTHEON, FEMINISM, VOLTAIRE’S REAL IDENTITY & HIS REMAINS

A guide to visiting Paris Pantheon in France! What to do, see and a panoramic view of the city.

I’m so shocked: So Voltaire’s remains were maybe stolen AND Voltaire wasn’t even his real name… More on this in a bit! There’s nothing quite like seeing Paris from a bird’s eye perspective! High above the iconic Parisian roofs, the entire city of lights lies spread out below you. I’ve even written an entire post on where to find the best panoramic views of Paris here. What I didn’t include in the article (but probably should have done) was the view that Paris Pantheon provides!

Situated in the Latin Quarter of Paris there’s both the chance to go high above the ground as well as below it in this iconic Parisian building. The Latin quarter is so called because during the founding years of the arrondissement’s famous Sorbonne University, the students spoke entirely in Latin.

Although construction of the neo-classical style building started in 1758, the building was not completed until 1790. From its outset, the project was plagued with difficulties; money problems slowed the building and the chief architect died.

The Pantheon was actually originally intended to be a church dedicated to St Genevieve, patron saint of Paris. However, following the death of statesman Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, it was quickly changed to be a resting place for France’s greatest men. A plaque within the Pantheon reads:

“AUX GRANDS HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE”

(The homeland is thankful to these great men)

Despite the count having been an early proponent of the French revolution, in true French Revolution style, his body was disinterred at some point during the chaos that ensued. His body has never been recovered.

Controversy

As with any national monument, the Paris Pantheon has shouldered its fair share of controversy:

Only one woman is interred in the Pantheon

Famous people buried in the Paris Pantheon include (surprise, surprise) 99% men. Among their ranks, you can find the final resting places of Rousseau, Voltaire, and Louis Braille. The one woman interred in the Pantheon on her own achievements is Marie Curie (for her work on cancer and radiation).

A couple of years ago, there was a public uproar (as there should be!) over the fact that only one woman was interred in the public monument as upon her own merits. Two women French resistance fighters during Nazi occupation were offered a place in the Pantheon. Their families declined and so plaques with their names have been added instead. This means that the grand total of women invited now stands at 3.  Not quite equality yet…

Voltaire’s Remains were stolen?!

First things first: did you know that Voltaire’s real name wasn’t Voltaire? It was actually François-Marie Arouet. He adopted the name Voltaire during the time that he was locked up in the Bastille (the prison where the Bastille monument now stands). Although no one is really clear where he got this name from, ‘Voltaire’ is an anagram of the latin form of ‘Arouet’.

Following Voltaire’s death, he was bestowed one of the greatest honours a French citizen can receive: being buried in the Paris Pantheon. But what is actually in Voltaire’s tomb today? Well, during the 1800s, a rumour was widely propagated that Voltaire’s remains had been stolen by religious fanatics and thrown into the Seine…

Evidence

After much internet searching, I found this article called ‘The Bones of Voltaire and Rousseau‘ from the Sydney Morning Herald Feb 2, 1898:

What the “Standard’s” Paris correspondent describes as a ghastly and repulsive ceremony took place on Saturday afternoon, December 18, in the vaults of the Pantheon. For some time past a controversy has been carried on as to where the bones of Voltaire and Rousseau were laid at rest. Though their tombs exist in the crypt of the Pantheon, an impression prevailed that under the restoration ultra-royalist fanatics had disinterred their remains and flung them in the Seine.

This story, supported by Michelin and Victor Hugo, obtained sufficient credit to induce the authorities to break into the tombs, open up the coffins, and inspect the remains. The Academie Francaise, the Insitute, and the government, with a crowd of reporters, were present at the ceremony. Voltaire’s coffin was first opened. His bones were found to be lying in a confused heap; but M. Berthelot, ex-minister of public instruction, took up his skull and exhibited it to lookers-on. M. Jules Olaretie pronounced it to be a striking resemblance to the bust of Voltaire by Pigalle…

Not only an interesting (and macabre) read, this article puts to bed the rumours and speculation about Voltaire’s missing body.

What to see in Paris Pantheon?

The Pendulum

Asides from tonnes of controversy and stunning architecture, the Paris Pantheon is also home to a rather unusual timepiece. Foucault’s Pendulum as the timepiece is formerly known is a 67m high swinging pendulum was used to prove that the Earth is round. (If you’re interested in how Foucault’s Pendulum proves that the Earth is round, I found an article here).

The Foucault pendulum you see is actually a copy because the original is housed in Arts et Metiers.

paris pantheon

The Crypt

It’s common knowledge that there’s as much going on below Paris as above it. From the catacombs to the metro, Paris has sprung up like a tree, with just as many roots below as branches above.

Being interred in the Paris Pantheon is one of the greatest achievements that a French citizen can earn.

Going up the dome

What better way to get to know Paris, than by getting a feel for the layout of the Land? Well, the dome of the Paris pantheon provides just that and more! After walking up countless flights of stairs and following twisting passageways, you finally end up around 60m above ground level.

Tip: make sure you head out on a sunny day around mid-late afternoon for the best photos!paris pantheonparis pantheon

Pin ‘Paris Pantheon‘ now and read it later:

Visiting the Paris Panthéon in France- Final resting place of Voltaire and Marie Curie.

Sources Smithsonian, Wikipedia, NY Times, Pantheon Paris, Voltaire Almighty

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