A good friend of mine is studying at the Sorbonne in Paris this year, so we made arrangements to meet up. I didn’t recognize the first few meeting places she suggested, but we settled on the Pantheon, a famous and old building in the middle of the Latin Quarter near the university. To be honest, I had no idea what the Pantheon was, but it was easy enough to locate on the map my uncle’s dad lent me kindly.
Walking up the ribboning streets of the Quartier Latin, the grey sky and drizzle couldn’t detract from the grand structure of the Pantheon as I approached. I had left early to account for traffic and waiting for the metro, but somehow the walk from Thiais to the train station, buying my ticket, taking the train to Saint-Michel, then walking to the Pantheon took about an hour less than I thought. I was mega-early and just when I reached the front, I got a text from my friend saying she was going to be late. Ah well, two extra hours in Paris never killed anyone, I thought, and picked up my ticket to go inside.
The sight that greeted me could not have been a better surprise. All around, huge paintings detailed the life of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris; Charlemagne’s coronation; and the baptism of Clovis, the ancient Frankish king who founded the first basilica that was located on this spot in 507 A.D. (and united all of the Frankish tribe for the first time). As I was to discover, by starting my solo-exploration of Paris here, I was paying homage to a fascinating lineage of great French men and women who are memorialized or buried here, many of whom I idolize anyway, the French-ness being a nice side note:
- Joan of Arc, memorialized
- Victor Hugo (author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), buried in the crypt
- Voltaire (philosopher of the Enlightenment, author of Candide), buried in the crypt
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of The Little Prince), memorialized
- Alexandre Dumas (author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers), buried in the crypt
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau (philosopher of the Enlightenment), buried in the crypt
- Louis Braille (creator of the braille system of writing), buried in the crypt
- Emile Zola (writer and major figure in the Dreyfus affair), buried in the crypt
- Marie Curie (Nobel prize-winning chemist, first person to win two Nobel Prizes and the only person to win them in two different sciences, first female professor at the University of Paris, first woman buried in the Pantheon on her own merits), buried in the crypt
- Pierre Curie (Nobel prize-winning chemist), buried in the crypt
This is from behind the statue commemorating the French National Convention in 1792.
Foucault’s pendulum, which demonstrates the rotation of the earth.
After walking around open-mouthed for half an hour in the main hall, I took the tiny winding staircase into the crypt.
I escaped into the cold again, happy to have stumbled across a gem of French history in a city full of better-known but equally shining jewels.