Vincennes and the Pantheon

We headed out in the morning to see the Château de Vincennes, at the eastern end of Metro line 1. After touring the chapel and castle keep, we had a quick lunch before heading back into Paris to visit the Panthéon. We then went to a nearby crêperie for an early dinner. We ended the day with a visit to Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, the largest department store in Europe.


We headed out in the morning on the Metro 1 line to the very last stop to the east, Château de Vincennes. There is also an RER station in the area but going there would have required transferring as well as a further walk upon arrival.

The name Vincennes may be familiar to Americans. There was a cruiser, the USS Vincnenes, which was named after the Battle of Vincennes, a revolutionary war victory at Vincennes, Indiana. The town was named after a fort that was established by François-Marie Bissot, Lord of Vincennes, as part of New France but was lost to the British prior to the war. The USS Vincennes is the ship that shot down the Iranian civilian airliner in the late 80s.

The Metro station is located right next to the castle‘s outer wall.

The entrance gate has a drawbridge!

The outer wall was protected by a moat. It is now empty of water and covered with grass.

Looking back at the main gate after entering.

We purchased our tickets and picked up an English brochure.

We took a quick look at the area near the entrance.

There is a small World War II memorial that stands in a small field filled with wildflowers. It reads (Google Translated):

From August 20 to 22, 1944, 29 patriots were shot by the Nazi occupiers in this place and in the east pit

These dates are during the liberation of Paris. Wikipedia states1:

On 20 August 1944, during the battle for the Liberation of Paris, 26 policemen and members of the Resistance arrested by soldiers of the Waffen-SS were executed in the eastern moat of the fortress, and their bodies thrown in a common grave.

We decided to head over to the chapel first, on the left.

We passed closer to the castle’s keep on our way to the chapel. Interestingly, the French word for a castle keep is donjon. It sounds a bit like dungeon. Merriam-Webster provides this etymology2:

The words for two different parts of a castle come from the same source. The word dungeon, meaning “a dark usually underground prison,” comes from the French word donjon, which also gives us our English word donjon, meaning “an inner tower in a castle.” Dungeon was first used in English in the 14th century for the strong tower in the inner part of the castle. Defenders could retreat to this tower if attackers got inside the castle walls. Part of the tower usually included an underground room, the dungeon, usually used for prisoners. Throughout its history, the word dungeon has had many spellings. Sometimes it was spelled donjon like the French word it comes from, and sometimes in other ways. In time the spelling donjon came to be used mostly for the castle tower, and the spelling dungeon mostly for the underground room or prison.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across donjon as an English word. It doesn’t seem to be in common usage, at least in the US.

The chapel as we approached.

Upon entering, we were extremely surprised to find a tree inside!

It isn’t a real tree though. It is an exhibition titled “Tree of Life” by Joana Vasconcelos, a Portuguese artist. The Paris Tourist Office offers this description3:

As part of the France-Portugal 2022 season, the Sainte-Chapelle, a  jewel of Gothic architecture, in the Château de Vincennes, is hosting a huge 13-metre-high laurel tree, adorned with 100,000 hand-woven and embroidered leaves in a mixture of red, black and gold.

This impressive installation titled Tree of life is the work of Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos,who wanted to recall the past of the place and in particular Queen Catherine de Médicis.

Joana Vasconcelos was in 2009 the first woman artist to exhibit in another prominent Parisian monument: the Palace of Versailles.

The stained glass windows at the very end of the chapel depict various scenes. The full length side windows of the church, none of which are visible in this particular photograph, only seem to contain geometric patterns and a bit of color.

The sign for this bell reads:

The first public clock, in France, was realised in 1369 on the terrace of the gatehouse.

This costly innovation was the forerunner of the municipal clocks that will appear in major European cities from the end of the XIV  century.

A copy of the bell is on the current bell-tower, restored in 2000.  The original is in front of you and is the only surviving bell of all the clocks installed by the king Charles V in his Parisian residences.  The clock above the king's study punctuated the royal life: indeed, it was used to ring the canonical hours, giving in that way the hour of the prayer.

The bell bears an inscription indicating that its casting was ordered by Charles V.

The sign for this object reads:

The salamander is a legendary creature with a reptilian appearance, living in the fire.  It has been described since the Antiquity by Greek authors like Aristotle.

In 1504, the king Francois I takes this fantastic creature, symbol of his family the Valois-Angouleme, as his emblem.  He binds the salamander with his motto "Nutrisco & extinguo" ("I foste[r] the good and I extinguish the bad").

This salamander was created during the reign of Francois I and was removed during the 1990's renovation works.

The view from the far end of the church. A sign below reads:

In the 1520's, the king Francois I ordered the architect Philibert Delorme to carry on the works of the Holy Chapel, unachieved since a century.

The king wanted to thank God for having a boy in 1518 and wanted also to impress his rival, the emperor Charles V.

The works were done on the nave and on top of the monument.  Nevertheless, it was under the next king, Henry II, that the Holy Chapel of Vincennes was achieved.

The English is a bit awkward but makes more sense if the world completed is substituted for achieved. Also, the emperor mentioned, Charles V, was the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. It seems at this time this empire actually included multiple empires or countries. The main parts seem to be Spain, the Holy Roman Empire (more or less modern Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland, and part of Italy), and the southern part of Italy.

This part of the wall was apparently decorated. Were there other paintings on the walls that have been lost?

This view shows a stained glass window with art as well as the simpler full height windows that just have geometric patterns.

The grave of Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien. A sign reads, referring to a plaque that is not visible here:

This marble plaque was originally positioned between two statues located at the foot of the funeral monument, before being subsequently moved from the nave of the Sainte Chapelle to the oratory on the orders of Napoleon III.

"Here lie the remains
of Louis Antonie Henri de Bourbon Conde, Duke of Enghein,
who, during the exile of the legitimate King,
whilst receiving hospitality
in foreign lands beyond the Rhine,
fell into the trops of the tyrant and was taken pristoner
in disregard for the law of the people
[and who], in this castle, was criminally condemned to death and shot
in the night of 21 March 1804, aged 31 years, 7 months, and
19 days.

On returning to the throne of his ancestors, Louis XVIII
had the remains of this much-lamented prince,
who had been precipitately interred, sought out,
and after a solemnly celebrated expiatory service,
had them placed in this monument on 14 February 1816."

Looking up at the ceiling.

The balcony above is a space for the King and Queen. It is accessible by stairs.

The view from the royal balcony. The space is currently dominated by the tree. But otherwise, the chapel is one large empty space surrounded by windows. It resembles a smaller, less ornate version of the Sainte-Chapelle, which we visited on our second day of this trip.

The windows at the very front of the chapel above the entrance below.

Definitely an interesting royal chapel!

Time to head to the keep! There was some construction going on in front.

The entrance, at ground level, leads to this view with a bridge above leading into the actual keep. A sign explains:

In the Middle Ages, the only entrance to the keep was at first floor level.  Visitors first climbed the exterior staircase built against the gatehouse wall, then crossed the wooden footbridge above.  This is the route you will follow.  The two doorways on the ground floor of the keep were only created in the 18th century.  Inside the keep, the king moved between the first two floors via a wide spiral staircase, octagonal in shape and constructed in one of the corner turrets.  This staircase thus enabled him to pass easily between the large council room on the first floor and his private apartments on the second floor.  An earlier, smaller, staircase in the thickness of the south wall, serves all levels, from the ground floor to the roof terrace.

For our fellow Americans, a reminder that in Europe, the 1st floor is what we would call the second floor. The doors mentioned are not visible here in this upward facing view.

The view at ground level from left to right. There is a bit of mix of old and new here at this level.

Looking up at the high walls that surround the keep.

We turned around and started to head up the stairs that are in the wall by the entrance that we had just walked through.

Almost there…

Now we can enter the keep! But, we actually turned around and decided to walk in the passageway atop the walls first.

We started by going clockwise. A sign in this area reads:

The enclosure wall of the keep and the king's walk.  The enclosure wall, which was almost square and measured about 50 m on each side, was intended to protect the keep and service buildings, and was constructed in about 1370.

At the top of the curtain wall a rampart path designed as a walk for the king, led towards a secondary entrance, opposite the gatehouse, and thereby to the gardens outside.  At the corners of the enclosure wall, four watch turrets each have a small room with a vaulted and painted ceiling.  They form stopping places along the king's walk and thus act as an extension to his apartment which opened on to the rampart path level.  The holes in the ground were used to collect rainwater which ran into storage tanks in the courtyard of the keep.  Water outlets can still be seen on the inner face of the enclosure wall.  The rampart path was covered by a slate roof in the early 17th century.

We walked a bit further to be directly across from the chapel. Louis Antoine de Bourbon’s grave is in the part of the building that juts out from the side.

Looking up at the keep from the corner of the wall. It is quite tall, particularly when viewed from so close.

After we walked a bit further, we had a good view of the entrance gate and tower along with the bridge leading into the keep.

There are two large buildings to the south of the keep and chapel. One was the King’s palace and the other was the Queen’s. These are newer structures compared to the keep.

We continued to walk clockwise, soon reaching the southwestern corner of the wall.

In modern times, there is a road that runs along the western edge of the castle. The grass below is the former moat that is around the keep’s wall. We crossed over the moat when entering, though it wasn’t visible from the photographs that we took.

We’re once again facing the front of the chapel.

The covered passageways have some modern graffiti.

The view from the northwestern corner. The keep looks a bit different from this angle.

Looking down, it looks like they’ve left a bit of wall that fell off in place.

The castle is a bit weird here. There is a moat around the keep. It seems to intersect but block the outer moat as well as the outer wall.

We continued walking and reached the final remaining corner.

The bell above the gate tower is visible from here. This is the copy that replaced the bell that is on display in the chapel.

Some ceiling detail.

Here we are again!

We headed up to the open terrace atop the gate tower. The view is nice from here!

Well, the view is mostly nice. What are they building down there in the moat?

The view to the north and the very tall entrance gate that we walked through earlier in the morning.

We were still below bell level. And the keep seems to have at least two more floors, possibly three, above us.

The view to the southeast.

One last look before we head back down!

Back down the narrow circular stairs! At least there is an international standard exit sign, in case you were confused as to which way to go to leave!

This time, we actually crossed the bridge! This is the view from the keep side, looking at the entrance tower. The stairs are to the right of the bridge.

This was formerly a chapel and more recently a prison. A sign reads:

In Charles V's day, the room in this tower was a chapel designed to be used for the divine offices that the queen and the king's close relations followed from the nearby oratory.  The keep was sued as a prison from the 16th century and the tower rooms were converted into cells.  The paintings and graffiti were done by prisoners.

Looking up at the ceiling. This room is octagonal.

The interiors currently have a simple floor and are completely devoid of decoration and furniture.

The ceiling above is undecorated and simple.

These were drawn by prisoners. A sign reads:

The painted decorations were done by prisoners.  Those in this room were by Monseigneur Boulogne, confessor of Napoleon I, imprisoned on his orders.  This room is also believed to be one of the places in which the Comte de Mirabeau was kept prisoner.  He spent three years imprisoned at Vincennes, where he wrote Des letters de cachet et des prisons d'Etat against the abuses of the royal warrant.

The King’s bedroom was on the second floor, which is two floors above ground level.

The ceiling here is simpler but shows some very faded colors.

The flooring is the same as below though.

This was the King’s wardrobe. Basically, a walk-in closet. A sign reads:

This room was used as a wardrobe; the king's lien was kept here in coffers.  Under the vaulting and at the top of the walls can be seen particularly well preserved elements of the original wood paneling.

The sculptures come from the outside walls of the keep.  They are brackets at the base of the moulded window frames, now replaced by copies.  They depict prophets bearing a message, fantastical figures and angels with musical instruments singing in praise of God and expressing the joy of those who will be admitted into Paradise.

We headed downstairs to ground level. The sign on the right wall reads:

In the Middle Ages this lowest level of the keep was only accessible via the small staircase from the first floor.  The openings for the 2 doors to the courtyard were made in the 18th century.  It was therefore difficult to use this level as a kitchen so instead it was used for storage and housing the domestic servants.  It has a deep well and a large fireplace which has lost its canopy.  Like the upper floors, it was planned to be one room with a single, central pillar.  The interior wall, which hides the pillar, is a later medieval addition.  The 91th century window bars and cell doors are reminders that this floor was one used as a prison.  In 1784 the keep ceased to be used as a prison and the prisoners were transferred to the Bastille.  Between 1785 and 1790, a bakery supplying the village of Vincennes and eastern Paris occupied the ground floor and courtyard of the keep.

While the well was deep, we could still see the water below thanks to the light. This well isn’t nearly as deep as the one we saw at the castle in Nürnberg!

The large black sign shows the royal family tree and the linkage between France, in blue, and England, in red.

We exited via one of the two doors at ground level and walked around a bit outside before heading out to get lunch.

We wanted to get something quick and nearby. There were a few potential options but we decided to try a burger restaurant. We hadn’t had a French burger yet.

We ate at GOMU, just a bit down the street from the entrance. GOMU is a French chain with multiple locations in the country. It is supposed to be something like a Japanese inspired American hamburger restaurant. It was significantly better than McDonalds but that’s not saying much.

After eating, we headed back to the Metro station to return to Paris. We noticed this statue. Saint Louis! We actually learned earlier on this trip that Saint Louis is actually King Louis IX but we’ve neglected to write about it here. Wikipedia briefly explains4:

Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the canonization of Louis in 1297;[40] he is the only French king to be declared a saint.  Louis IX is often considered the model of the ideal Christian monarch.

Among other things, Saint Louis was responsible for building the Sainte-Chapelle, which e visited on our second day in Paris. He also led two crusades, dying on the 2nd due to dysentery. Kind of like the Oregon Trail.

One final look at the castle before we leave!


There isn’t really any perfectly direct way to take the Metro from Vincennes to the Panthéon. We took line 1 to Châtelet to transfer to line 7 which backtracks a bit on its way to Jussieu. From there, we walked to the west. But first, we were going to take a very slight detour.

This little park seems to be called Captain Square. It is filled with various plants and flowers.

There is a playground at one end.

And stairs along with a fountain, or possibly just a small pool of water, on the other end. There is a headless sculpture as well. It seems to be lying down and enjoying the view.

We took a quick look at the flowers and plants before moving on.

After going up the stairs, the view opened up to this scene.

This was a theater in Roman times. It is called the Arènes de Lutèce (Arenas of Lutetia), Lutèce being the Roman settlement, from around the 1st century BC, that ultimately became Paris.

Some of the upper areas are basically grassy hills.

The nearby hill was covered with grape vines.

The view from the upper section above the grapes. There was a group of children, perhaps from a school, who seemed to be playing a variation of dodgeball. It seemed a bit chaotic. There was also a groundskeeper who was doing some maintenance. He really needed a new belt because his definitely was not doing anything at all!

We went down these stairs to access the western exit at the far end of the theater.

Just a regular Parisian street on the other side.

We turned here on our way to the Panthéon. There wasn’t much going on at all here at this time.

We passed by this tiny section of wall. The sign next to it reads (Google Translated):

History of Paris Precinct of Philippe Auguste

In 1190; before his departure for the third crusade, Philippe Auguste (1165-1223) asked the inhabitants to contribute to the security of the city by the construction of a wall of approximately 5 km, completed around 1210. This curtain wall, ten meters high and crowned with a crenellated walkway, is pierced by around ten doors. Bordered to the west by the Louvre fortress, built to protect it in the first years of the 13th century, to the east by Place de Grève, to the north by Les Halles, and to the south by the village of Sainte-Geneviève, it established a capital of 250 hectares: from now on, the palace, the treasure and the archives are permanently fixed there, even if the king does not always reside there. This is the first attempt to unite the three Parisian districts: the “City”, the religious, administrative and judicial heart, the “Ville”, the economic center located around the ports on the right bank, and the emerging "University", left bank.

We passed by this big church on our right as we got close to the Panthéon.

The northeast corner of the Panthéon as seen from the front of the church.

A statue of Pierre Corneille near some outdoor seating. Wikipedia describes him as a tragedian. Presumably, this means he wrote tragedies.

We walked around the building to its west side to find the entrance.

We went up the stairs to join the ticket queue. We noticed a Vigipirate sign here. We’ve seen this here and there in Paris and on some vehicles. It seems to be something like a threat level indicator. The literal translation to English seems to be Pirate Watch. Arrrrr….

The ceiling above us was quite well decorated.

It is quite an impressive open space inside! The ceiling is very high above. There are many columns everywhere. And the walls are covered with large murals.

A view looking straight up. The building seems to let a good amount of light in, something that isn’t really apparent when seeing it from the outside.

One of many sculptures. Some of the areas, like in front of the statue, were roped off for unknown reasons.

Just one of the many murals. This one is about Saint-Germain d’Auxerre. We visited the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church, named after him, yesterday.

There is a pendulum in the middle of the Panthéon. It is Foucault’s pendulum, in a very literal sense as it is the second one that he personally demonstrated in public in 1851. Well, technically, it is a copy of the original. The original was moved to the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1855 and snapped in 20105!

This sculpture is “to the unknown heroes to the unknown martyrs who died for France.”

This three panel mural is titled, “Vow of Clovis at the Battle of Tolbac.” Wikipedia explains6:

Clovis is said to have attributed his success to a vow that he had made: if he won, he would convert to the religion of the Christian God who had aided him. He became a Christian in a ceremony at Reims on Christmas 496.

Clovis was “the first King of what would ultimately become France.”7 And this is, presumably, how they became Christians.

Another very grand mural.

We headed downstairs into the crypt. There are 81 people buried here.

The tomb of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Wikipedia provides a short description8:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Age of Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic, and educational thought.

Voltaire is also here. Wikipedia describes him9:

Voltaire was a versatile and prolific writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, histories, but also scientific expositions. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and 2,000 books and pamphlets. Voltaire was one of the first authors to become renowned and commercially successful internationally. He was an outspoken advocate of civil liberties and was at constant risk from the strict censorship laws of the Catholic French monarchy. His polemics witheringly satirized intolerance and religious dogma, as well as the French institutions of his day. His best-known work and magnum opus, Candide, is a novella which comments on, criticizes and ridicules many events, thinkers and philosophies of his time, most notably Gottfried Leibniz and his belief that our world is the "best of all possible worlds".

While we recognize a few of the names of the people buried here, most are people we haven’t heard of before.

Most of the tombs are placed in small vaults like this one. Though, this one is empty and currently used for storage.

That cat looks Egyptian?

The majority of the tombs are simple ones like this.

Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie! Wikipedia has a quote from a Cornell University professor10:

The result of the Curies' work was epoch-making. Radium's radioactivity was so great that it could not be ignored. It seemed to contradict the principle of the conservation of energy and therefore forced a reconsideration of the foundations of physics. On the experimental level the discovery of radium provided men like Ernest Rutherford with sources of radioactivity with which they could probe the structure of the atom. As a result of Rutherford's experiments with alpha radiation, the nuclear atom was first postulated. In medicine, the radioactivity of radium appeared to offer a means by which cancer could be successfully attacked.

We’ve never heard of him, but he has some decorations on his tomb.

Loius Braille, who invented Braille! While everyone has almost certainly heard of Braille, we didn’t know he was French.

Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and more.

There are alot of French flags there! This is Jean Lannes, 1st Duke of Montebello. He was a general under Napoleon.

This memorial to Léon Gambetta is located by the stairs between the crypt and main floor. His heart is in the urn. Gambetta was a politician who founded the Third Republic of France, which lasted until the Nazi occupation during World War II. The text on the memorial reads (Google Translated, more or less):

Here Rests
The Heart of Leon Gambetta
Solemnly Transferred to the Pantheon
November 11, 1920
Following the National Will
Law of September 1st, 1920

The block below the memorial reads:

In Memory Of

Generals d'Aurelle de Paladines,
Chanzy, and Faidherbe

Colonels Denfert-Rochereau and Teyssier

As Well As Officers and Soldiers of the
Armies of Land and Sea Which in 1870-1871
Saved the Honor of France

This seems to be referring to the Franco-Prussian War which was a loss for France. On our last trip to Germany, we visited the Niederwald Monument which was built to honor the German victory in this war and the creation of the German Empire as a result.

This large sculpture honors the National Convention, essentially tasked with creating a constitution for the first French Republic.

This sculpture is for Denis Diderot, a philosopher, author, and one of the French founders of Encyclopédie (Encyclopedia).

This monument honors the “speakers and publicists of the restoration.” A helpful description on Flickr describes the people in the sculpture11:

Statesmen of the Restoration, showing Benjamin Constant, Pierre de Serre, Casimir Perrier, Armand Carrel, Maximilien Foy, Jacques-Antoine Manuel, François-René de Chateaubriand.

This seems to be referring to the Bourbon Restoration after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.

This three panel mural depicts the life of Joan of Arc, now considered to be a symbol of France.

Two paintings in a corner with titles in Latin. The left reads:

For the country, to the brave citizens, the trumpet of war, the battles sound you, and you abandon the sweet hearths.

Nor does the child weep, nor does the wedded woman linger; ferocious, perhaps he will not return, you will go.

The right:

While everyone is fleeing from the terrible plague, this girl goes to the homes of the sick; who, secure in herself, heals the wounds of the dying with a foul hand, and lifts their spirits with a kind voice.

Not sure what they’re holding up or what this sculpture is supposed to represent.

This painting is of “Atilla and His Army Marching on Paris.” This seems to be Atilla the Hun. Saint Genevieve is said to have saved Paris12:

In 451 she led a "prayer marathon" that was said to have saved Paris by diverting Attila's Huns away from the city.

After our visit, we headed back out to the furthest point on the plaza in front of the Pantheon to take a photo of the building.

The Eiffel Tower is visible as well from the front of the Pantheon.

One of the buildings by the entrance to the Pantheon. It is the University of Paris’ Faculty of Law.

A very ornate… something…

By now, it was 5pm and we were hungry. We decided to visit a creperie one block away. It’s name? La Crêperie.

The view from the restaurant. There are cones on the road outside as the building is currently under renovation.

We also got a Kir Breton, it was very good and sweet with cider instead of Champagne like in a Kir Royal

We had one savory crepe.

And two sweet crepes. The Suzette, a sweet crepe, was particularly interesting as it involved burning Grand Mariner. Everything we had was fantastic!

After, we walked two blocks to find another location from Netflix’s Emily in Paris. This Italian restaurant, Terra Nera, is Gabriel’s restaurant in the show.

And just like on the show, Emily’s apartment is right there on the other side of a small public square.

We walked via the south side of the Pantheon to the Place Monge Metro station to take line 7 to Chaussée d’Antin – La Fayette.

We entered Galeries Lafayette Haussmann, the largest department store in Europe. It is very big with a rooftop terrace. Unfortunately, we though the terrace would close at closing time. It actually closes an hour before so we missed it!

After browsing the department store, we walked over to the more or less adjacent Palais Garnier, the city’s opera house. It was being renovated. It is possible to visit on a self guided tour, though we were much to late to do so.

From here, we headed back to the Le Méridien Etoile to end the day.

Vincennes Outdoors Map, 1 of 2

Vincennes Outdoors Map, 2 of 2

Before the Pantheon Outdoors Map

After the Pantheon Outdoors Map


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