Paris is a city that celebrates and honours the past better than any other city I’ve ever seen. There are plaques dotted on buildings across the city commemorating famous inhabitants of crumbling houses, sculptures in public places that mark both great and terrible moments and places in history and spectacular monuments that have stood the test of time.
King Louis XV built the Pantheon in honour of the patron saint of Paris, Saint Genevieve. He died before it was completed in 1790, by which time Paris was in the early throes of the French Revolution.
By this time, the French monarchy had less power as it had changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. In 1791, the National Assembly changed the Pantheon from a church, to a secular mausoleum to honour France’s heroes. The National Assembly’s president, Gabriel Riqueti, had just died and he became the first person to be interred in the Pantheon.
More than 225 years later, the Pantheon is still the final resting place of France’s National Heroes. The Pantheon is a mausoleum for intellectual heroes of France, with the military and war heroes resting with Napoleon at the Hotel des Invalides.
To be interred here is one of France’s highest honours, and can only be decided by a parliamentary act. Among those resting here are Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jean Moulin, Louis Braille, Marie Curie, Alexandre Dumas and heroines of the French Resistance, Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germain Tillion.
As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a similar place in Australia for national heroes outside the realms of the military or government. The reverence that the French have for intellectuals is inspiring, and no doubt has shaped a society that has contributed so much to literature, science and the arts.
Have you visited the Pantheon? What’s your favourite sight in Paris?