One of the top attractions in Rome, the Pantheon is one of the most complex and beautiful buildings in the world and truly captures the grandeur of ancient Rome magnificently.
Positioned in a perfect setting, the magnificent Pantheon faces Piazza della Rotunda with a central fountain and steps supporting the small obelisk from the Temple of Isis.
It’s photographed by many tourists and though many throughout the world call it the Pantheon, few are aware that it is also known as the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres.
History of the Pantheon
In addition to being a massive and impressively beautiful building internally, it is also an engineering marvel, far ahead of its time. All the more remarkable, given that it was built by Emperor Hadrian in 125 AD and has been in continuous use since. It was originally designed as a temple to the 12 most important classical gods and the functional space in incorporates reinforces this idea.
What probably saved it from destruction like many other temples to pagan gods was the fact that it was eventually converted from a pagan temple into the Church dedicated to St Mary of the Martyrs. The bones of the martyrs were actually brought here from the Catacombs. Here’s a useful app on the Pantheon that you can download for free that provides details on its history and architecture.
Architecture – External
The plan is simple enough: a circular enclosure aside a rectangular entrance. The entrance sports a classic Greek portico of granite columns topped by a triangular pediment. There are three ranks of the 39 ft Corinthian supports, eight in front and two sets of four further in leading to the main rotunda. A rectangular section joins the portico to the rotunda.
Walk though the original bronze doors and prepare to draw breath. The impact of this amazing building is quite staggering for most visitors. The giant concrete dome topping the cylinder forming the major component was so well designed and built that no similar type would stand up under its own weight.
Architecture – Interior
The height and the diameter of the dome are 43.3 meters, or 142 feet, meaning that the space inside creates a perfect sphere – the symbol of spiritual perfection. It is lit through the 9 meter (30-foot) hole in the oculus which symbolically linked the temple with the heavens above. It remained the largest dome in the world until the 1960s.
Check out the walls which are 6 meters thick (20 feet) in order to support the weight of the incredible structure. In true temple style, much of the interior was rich in materials and detail including the surviving beautiful marble decoration and flooring.
The tomb of the artist Raphael is to the left of the main altar, opposite that of King Vittorio Emanuele I. It is also the location of the shrine to Umberto I.
Nearly two thousand years after its birth the Pantheon in Rome is as stable today as when it was first built. Yet it was constructed without the benefit of machines or modern tools.
Nor did the Pantheon engineers have the advantage of modern transportation methods. All the materials were floated down the Tiber and moved to the site by man and animal on carts of the period.
Check out this 15-second video of the Pantheon we posted on Instagram.
Truth or Fiction?
My father-in-law once told me a story as to how the dome was built. I will share it with you and you can then be the judge as to whether there is any truth to it. It’s very plausible! In order to build the dome, they filled the sphere with soil and in the process, they put scattered coins in there.
Once the dome was completed, they told the people there were coins in the soil and if they helped to remove it, any coin they found was theirs to keep. If this was true, the ‘project managers’ were geniuses! You couldn’t get more willing hands.
Admission to the Pantheon is free.
Mon – Sat: 9 am – 7.30pm and Sun: 9 am –6 pm.
Contact Tel: +39 06 68300230