Pantheon: the Marvel of Ancient Roman Architecture
No matter how long your trip to Rome is, there are a few places you just have to see: the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum, and the Pantheon. If you have more time, I am sure you would also want to see the famous Spanish stairs or the Trevi Fountain. Visit to the Vatican is also high on most tourists’ lists.
Long weekend in Rome
Recently, I took my Mom for a long weekend to Rome. It was a first time for both of us and we had just a bit more than two days, so there was not much time. We chose to go with the typical tourist must-sees.
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Battling crowds, standing in crazy-long lines everywhere, being pushed and shoved, we were able to visit the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum and the Palatine Hill, the Vatican, the Spanish stairs and the Trevi Fountain… but the one object that made the most impression on me was the Pantheon.
Pantheon: first impressions
It is not the oldest and not the biggest one of the must-sees, but there is some other-worldliness about it.
The first time we saw it was late in the evening the first day we came. We were just walking around in the general direction of the Pantheon… and then we saw it.
I was glad we hit it from the back – slowly walking around it, admiring the narrow brick construction, beautiful colors set against the dark sky and pieces of ancient columns.
When we finally circled the last corner and saw the front of it, my jaw dropped. It is hard to describe the magnitude of it. I have seen photos of it before but somehow they just can’t prepare you for the presence of the Pantheon.
The first night we could only see it from the outside as it was already closed. We walked slowly around it, admiring each and every inch of its structure – the well-polished stone, rounded with time corners, some cracks, and holes…
I loved the way the lit walls contrasted with the night sky adding magic to the experience.
What is the Pantheon?
Simply, it’s an ancient Roman temple turned church.
It was first commissioned by Marcus Agrippa but built much later on by emperor Hadrian around the year 126 CE. It stands in the same spot where two other buildings stood before it - both destroyed - the first by fire, the second by lightening.
It is also the only well-preserved ancient building in Rome. All of the others are in some kind of damaged stage.
It has a unique circular shape topped with a concrete dome, a perfect hemisphere. To this day, this is the biggest unreinforced dome of this kind.
The fact that it still stands is a beautiful testimony to the genius of the ancient Roman architects.
In the center of the dome, there is an opening (Oculus). The height of the building (to the Oculus) and the diameter of the rotunda are the same: 43,3 m (150 Roman feet).
In front of the rotunda, there is a portico with giant granite Corinthian columns. They were brought to Rome all the way from Egypt!
Pantheon – the name
The term “pantheon” simply means “related to all gods”. Some suggest that the temple was dedicated to all gods but it is rather questionable as it was not the practice to make such temples.
Others think it was more of a popular nickname by people for the building because of many gods’ statues placed around the temple.
Pantheon – a church
In the 7th century, Pantheon was consecrated by the Pope Boniface IV to St. Mary and the Martyrs. This move probably saved the building from destruction and abandonment.
It is said that the pope placed many relics of martyrs under the main altar to establish its holiness.
Although turning the temple into a church protected it from the complete destruction it didn’t prevent some other damage. Much of the bronze and marble decoration of the exterior was stripped.
Pantheon – the burial place
Pantheon serves as a burial place for several important persons. You can see the final rest of the famous painter Raphael and two Italian kings: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I with his queen Margherita.
To the right of the tomb of Raphael, his fiancée is buried as well. Behind it, we can see a statue of Madonna del Sasso, commissioned by Raphael and created by his student, Lorenzetto.
Pantheon – niches and chapels
All along the round walls of the Pantheon, you can see a variety of niches dedicated to various causes. Some serve as burial spaces, other hold statues of saints of the Virgin Mary.
I really liked the Chapel of the Crucifixion, where you can see the Roman brick wall behind a Crucifix from the 15th century.
Pantheon - a few practical tips
As with all must-see spots on Roman map, there are crowds to be expected. We came to Pantheon close to twilight and it was not too bad - we had to wait in line to be let in, but it was maybe a 5 min wait.
I am pretty sure that it is much worse mid-day and even better early in the morning. Come around 9 am to beat the crowds.
There are no entry fee or tickets.