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Pantheon

Country Italy
City Roma

Pantheon Photo Gallery

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Pantheon Description

The Pantheon, located on the Piazza della Rotonda, about a mile to the northwest of the Colosseum, is one of the most interesting sights for the tourists. It is supposed to stand on the site of the temple to all the gods of the ancient Rome built in 27 B. C. by Marcus Agrippa, the best friend of Augustus. One can infer as much from the well-preserved legend on the façade: M. Agrippa L. F. Cos. Tertium Fecit (“Built by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, when Consul for the third time.” The Roman historian Cassius Dio claimed that Agrippa also intended to erect a statue of Augustus next to those of the deities, but the Emperor opined that a statue of Gaius Julius Caesar should be placed there instead. The modern building is a replacement of that temple, which was destroyed in a blaze, dating from the period between 118 and 125 A. D.—the reign of Emperor Hadrian, whose modesty and filial piety towards his father Trajan made him reluctant to have his name written on the buildings erected during his reign. In the beginning of the third century Pantheon was repaired at the order of Emperor Septimius Severus. Pantheon remained a symbol of the Roman Empire’s greatness for a long time. Its name translates from the Greek as “to all gods.”

One of the Pantheon’s features is a complete absence of windows. The only source of light is a nine-meter-wide opening in the dome known as the oculus. The diameter of the dome itself is 45 meters and equals the height of the building. According to the belief of the ancient Romans, the single oculus symbolized the unity of all the ancient deities. Locals claim that during winter snowfalls the snowflakes look like a tornado, or a white pillar, at the very center of the temple. The upper part of the dome is made of pumice, a relatively light material, in order to reduce the stresses in construction, and weighs 5 tons, whereas its foundation is made of travertine, and the walls, of brick and tuff. The walls of the temple are marbled on the inside and six meters thick, which made the Pantheon serve as an impregnable fortress for a while. Michelangelo admired the architecture of the temple, believing it to have been built by angels. Brunelleschi was just as impressed as Michelangelo. The dome of the Pantheon was considered the largest in the world for over two centuries.

In the ancient days each niche contained a statue of a deity. The combined effect of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and the 23-degree obliquity of the ecliptic was that the lighting of the temple differed from one month to another, forming a new visual perception of the interior and new chiaroscuro shadow patterns produced by the statues each time. The sculptures dating from that period have disappeared long since—what tourists see in their stead today are a number of statues and frescoes dating from the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries for the most part. Among them we find a few fifteenth-century works such as the Melozzo da Forli’s Annunciation and a fresco of the Tuscan school depicting the Coronation of the Virgin. In the days of the Ancient Rome, the pediment was decorated by Titanomachy-themed statuary, and the bronze doors leading to the temple’s interior were fully gilded. Sixteen Corinthian columns of Egyptian granite frame the entrance to the temple. This is where we also find a large portico with a triangular pediment and the statues of Agrippa and Hadrian.

On May 13, 609, the pagan temple was consecrated to Santa Maria ad Martires, or Holy Virgin Mary and the Martyrs. It was a present to Pope Boniface IV from the Byzantine Emperor Phocas. In the Middle Ages, the All Hallows’ Eve was celebrated on May 13. This transformation has ensured the Pantheon’s survival until our day and age. In the early eighteenth century, the architect Alessandro Specchi designed the present high altars and the apses. The choir, designed by Luigi Poletti, was added in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Two kings of Italy are buried in the Pantheon: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as the famous Renaissance artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael, upon whose grave one always finds flowers. When he was still alive, he wished to be buried here since he believed the Pantheon to be a place where humans and gods come together. His epitaph reads: “By whom, while alive, Mother Nature feared defeat, and with whom, upon his death, she feared herself to die.” He is buried next to his fiancée, the niece of Cardinal Bibbiena (Bernardo Dovizi). Their love must be the reason why one can get married at the Pantheon. Other tombs found inside include those of the artists Annibale Carracci and Taddeo Zuccari, as well as several members of the Italian Royal Family, among them Princess Margherita of Savoy (one of the world’s most famous pizzas was named after her, by the way). Masses are held at the Pantheon during all the major Catholic religious celebrations. According to one of the legends associated with the Pantheon, when Copernicus saw its dome he became finally convinced of the correctness of the heliocentric cosmology.

The Pantheon can be visited free of charge between 8:30 and 19:30 on weekdays and Saturdays, and between 9:00 and 18:00 on Sundays. It is closed on 1 January and 1 May. There is a dress code—all those who enter the Pantheon must have their arms and legs covered. Taking photographs and making videos inside is permitted. You can take streetcar #8 to Via di Torre Argentina to get to the Pantheon, or one of the following buses: #30, #40, #46, #62, #63, #64, #70, #81, #85, #87, #95, #117, #119, #160, #175, #492, #628, #630, #780, #850, and #916. The nearest Metro station is Barberini.

Nearby, in the noise and bustle of the Piazza della Rotonda, we find the relatively small red marble obelisk from Egypt built by Ramses II and brought to Rome from Heliopolis during the reign of Diocletian. Its height equals 6.34 meters. The obelisk had stood elsewhere before 1711. It was placed here by Pope Clement XI to top the picturesque fountain designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1575. There are a total of thirteen such obelisks in Rome.

Pantheon video guide

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