Paris Trip Package Soufflot, begun 1738, finished 1789
Man proposes, events dispose, and the spirit of Paris does what it likes. The Pantheon was built as a church, became a pantheon at the Revolution, and thereafter seesawed twice between God and the Legion d’Honneur.
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The outside is now in mottled confusion with forty-two of Soufflot’s windows blocked and newly revealed from under the grime. But the inside is a true temple to reason, underlined by absurd sculptural groups: ‘L’ENCYCLOPEDIE PREPARE L’IDEE DE LA REVOLUTION’ and -not to appear one-sided – ‘AUX ORATEURS ET AUX PUBLICISTES DE LA RESTAURATION’. A simultaneous standard of genuine appreciation, genuflection and mordant satire is essential to the Pantheon. It is worthily maintained in the crypt where a nest of Napoleon’s hangers-on compete for space with Voltaire and Rousseau: everything is serious and absurd at the same time.
Soufflot was aiming to unite classical design and Gothic structure. Up to the main cornice, the elevation is normal and well set out. Above it, everything is done to lighten the load. The heaviness of a tunnel vault disappears in saucer domes; and at each corner a solid mass of masonry is replaced by ribs with small domes between (at the largest corners of all, supporting the main dome, Soufflot’s successor played safe, after his death). The result is more supple than any other classical building of its time. Lightened and dignified by this delicate invention above-stairs, the space unrolls, stately and discriminating, like a roofed-over boulevard. Through the open door the Eiffel Tower winks its complicity, off centre; against all the odds, the Pantheon turns out to be on the side of Paris. It deserves to be used as a true pantheon, displaying the best French music, poetry, painting, rhetoric, cooking – not to mention sculpture.
Paris France Vacation Buildings opposite the Pantheon
Soufflot, 1772, andHittorff 1844
These two curved buildings face the west front of the Pantheon on either side of the rue Soufflot. The northernmost is now the Law Faculty of the Sorbonne and was designed by Soufflot; the other is a mairie put up to match by Hittorff, seventy years later. With concave fronts and thick details, they take the visitor out of the frigid Parisian eighteenth century into some jolly small town across the Rhine. And with advantage: these thick pediments are really speaking to the passer-by, not delivering an oration.