The Pantheon is one of the most popular tourism sites in Rome. This site is a former temple which has been functioned variously including as a Roman Catholic Church and as a museum today. Its shape is circular with iconic Corinthian columns which create strong and elegant impression for visitors. The name Pantheon itself comes from Greek word means “temple consecrated to all gods.” Rebuilt in 126 AD by Emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon has been standing for 1896 years in 2012.
The History of the Pantheon
Pantheon was originaly built as a Greek temple in ancient Roman Empire. There were some speculation regarding the name of this spectacular building. An ancient Roman writer, Cassius Dio, proposed the idea that the name was given due to many gods statues in the building. He also pointed out that the shape of the dome resembled heaven, hence the name.
Before the current Pantheon was built. An original temple built by Marcus Agrippa and dedicated to Mars and Venus was erected on the same site. It was quite unclear how this original temple was shaped, but mostly it was said to have a T-shaped structure. The temple then served as a gathering place during the reign of Roman Republic but was abandoned during the reign of Augustus. The Caesar, however, built around twenty structures on the Campus Martius, a place where the Pantheon was built.
In 80 AD, a huge fire destroyed the Augustan Pantheon. Another Pantheon was then built by Domitian, only to be destroyed again by fire in 110 AD. Soon, the Pantheon was built again, this time with much caution. This Pantheon was the one that we still can see today.
In 609, Christianity came in and the Pantheon was turned into a Christian Church by Pope Boniface IV. The church was consecrated to Sancta Maria ad Martyres. Because of this, the building was preserved well and saved from destruction and abandonment which happened to many buildings in Rome during the medieval period.
Renaissance period brought different role for the Pantheon, a tomb. Many important figures were buried there including composer Arcangelo Corelli, painter Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, and architect Baldassare Peruzzi. Numerous paintings then brought to the Pantheon in the 15th century. One of those paintings was Annunciation by Melozzo da Forli who used to get inspirations from the Pantheon when he was designing the Cathedral of Florence.
In modern day, the Pantheon served various purposes as tomb, church, museum, and tourism attraction at once. The place is still used as a tomb and still receiving new burials of royalties such as Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, and volunteer members of Italian monarchist organization. Masses are also still celebrated there but restricted only for weddings or important Catholic days of obligation.
The Structure of the Pantheon
The structure of the Pantheon is divided into several parts. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Originally, the Pantheon was built with a flight of stairs in front of it. However, later renovation added a portico and eliminated the stairs. Now, the portico of the Pantheon has become one of the most iconic and impressive view of the Pantheon.
A theory presents that the reason behind the changing was to ease the difficulties faced during construction. The grey granite columns, for example, were so big and heavy that more friendly construction environment was needed.
What part of the Pantheon that is more special than its dome? I don’t think there is one. Not only it is an architectural beauty, it is also an architectural wonder. The architect managed to reduce the stress in the dome up to 80% by the using of less dense aggregate stones. Hidden chambers built in honeycomb structure also reduce the weight of the roof.
Many believe that the Pantheon’s dome looked from inside means to remind us of the vault of heaven. An oculus or a hole right on the top center of the dome functions as lighting and ventilation. Sun ray shines through the oculus during the day into different parts of the dome’s surface as if it is a giant sundial. A drainage system is placed below the oculus to anticipate rain water that goes in when it is raining.
The conversion of the original Pantheon into a Roman Catholic church by Pope Boniface IV brought some adjustments to the interior of the building. High altars and apses were added by Pope Clement XI in the 18th century. A choir then was added in 1840.
Christian paintings are also decorating the wall of the Pantheon today. On the left side of the first niche there is a painting of Saint Lawrence and Saint Agnes by Clement Maioli while on the right side there is Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Pietro Paolo Bonzi.
Statues that are placed all over the Pantheon are also another form of Christian influence. A copy of the Madonna icon is enshrined in the apse. There is also a statue of Saint Anastasio by Bernardino Cametti on the right side of the final niche.
Influence on Other Building Architecture
As one of the most famous architectures in the world, the Pantheon has inspired many architects in western civilization in creating their works. During Renaissance alone, dome was a favorite form of construction. Instead of diminishing, Its influence just got stronger in 19th and 20th centuries. Even today, you can easily find city halls, universities, public libraries, and other old public buildings built in the form of the Pantheon.
Visiting the Pantheon
The pantheon is located in Piazza della Rotonda, Rome. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 7.30 pm and on Sunday from 9 am to 6 pm. You do not have to buy any ticket to go inside the Pantheon. However, you may expect a queuing line.
Inside the Pantheon, information of the objects inside is given in English and Italian. Interactive screens and audio tour are also available for a small charge of €4.