In the middle of bustling, crowded old-city Rome, there stands many ancient monuments and buildings, but none better preserved and more intact than the Pantheon. Before going to Rome, I had never heard of this building and didn’t think much of it even while standing in front of it. Once I heard/read the history of it, though, and realized just how special and impressive it is, I appreciate it infinitely more.
The Pantheon is an amazing architectural feat, a testament to the ingenuity of ancient Romans, and it has been standing since it was completed in 125 CE. Two earlier Pantheon buildings stood on the site and were destroyed by fire in 80 CE and 110 CE, respectively. When it was finished, during Hadrian’s reign, he dedicated the building to the first ruler who commissioned it (as was his usual practice) and so the writing below the pediment reads:
M. AGRIPPA L.F. COS TERTIUM FECIT (Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, three-time consul, made this). Below the main inscription is a smaller one indicating the restorations carried out by Septimius Severus and Caracalla in 202 CE and reads: pantheum vetustate corruptum cum omni cultu restituerunt (with every refinement they restored the Pantheum, worn by age).
The building consists of a portico (porch) and a cylindrical building with a dome on top. The porch consists of numerous columns holding the roof and a pediment on the front, consistent with classical Greek style, but the round interior is more of a roman style, similar to Roman baths.
The interior was always meant to be more stunning than the exterior, and that is immediately understood once inside. It is a perfectly round cylinder on the inside, with a diameter of 43.2 meters; the highest point of the dome is also 43.2 meters (from the floor to the top) which creates a perfect hemisphere.
The dome of the Pantheon remains the world’s largest unsupported dome, and this was accomplished by making the thickness of the walls increasingly thinner as they near the top. Coffers in the ceiling were also a solution to make the dome lighter. The eye (or oculus) in the top of the dome is 8.8 meters, or 28.8 feet, in diameter, and is an open hole with no covering that acts as the only light source in the building. Though rain rarely gets inside the Pantheon, if it does make it to the floor, the sloped and tiled (original) floors will lead the water to the drains in the center.
As for the purpose of the building, “pantheon” means “to honor all gods,” therefore it is believed to have been a temple or place of some sort for people to worship and honor the ancient gods of Rome. That quickly changed, though, as the Pantheon was converted to the Church of St. Mary of the Martyrs in 608 CE, and it is believed that because of this repurpose that the building survived and has been protected to the extent that it has. The building has also been in continuous use since its completion, and the tomb of Raphael as well as many Italian kings and priests reside there!
If you ever find yourself in Rome, I highly suggest you visit this fascinating place, and step back 2,000 years for a few minutes, and remember to stay quiet; the acoustics in there are incredible and the voice over the speakers doesn’t love it when it gets too noisy. 🙂
Images taken by me, sketch source: 1