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Ancient Rome - The Pantheon





 Ancient Rome - The Pantheon

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The Pantheon

             The Pantheon in the Pizza della Rotonda in Rome, Italy

The Pantheon is adjacent to the Piazza della Rotonda and is one of the glories of the Roman Empire.  It is known for its outstanding architectural style, impressive size and excellent preservation. 

The Pantheon or Palace of the Gods, is the finest surviving building from Roman times. Considering the state of construction technology at the time it was created, it is amazing that a building with its unique dome and decorative details could have been built, nonetheless survive to modern times.  The Pantheon consists of two parts - a porch or portico and an ornate, massive rotunda capped by a spectacular dome and oculus.

        The interior of the dome and its oculus in the Pantheon in Rome, Italy

The Pantheon's dome, which reaches approximately 150' above the floor of the rotunda, was built in a manner that used progressively lighter construction  techniques as it reached for the sky.  The indented sections on the dome's interior surface were used to remove weight and increase the structure's strength.

The oculus (the circular opening at the apex of the dome) served three roles. First, the omission of weight strengthened the dome by reducing stress at the apex. Second, the oculus served to provide interior light while representing the sun in the heavens.  Finally, the oculus allowed smoke from offerings to escape the dome and served as an simple, air-purification system.  Recent research suggests that the orientation of the Pantheon and the size of the oculus were designed to allow the sun to illuminate the portico of the building in April 21 to mark the founding of the city.

The Pantheon's granite columns were quarried in Egypt, transported up the Nile, across the Mediterranean and up the Tiber where they were then lugged to the building site. 


Temples had existed at this site before the Pantheon, but they were minor constructions of minimal importance.  The Emperor Hadrian commissioned the Pantheon with its spectacular rotunda and the marvelous dome as a temple dedicated to all gods.   The Pantheon was built over the ruins of a temple that had been erected by Agrippa during the previous century.

        The rotunda in the Pantheon - Rome, Italy

In our opinion, Hadrian is one of the most interesting of the Roman emperors.  Hadrian's travels took him throughout the Roman Empire when it was at its peak.  His architectural footprint can be found in a variety a places, including Israel, Greece, Great Britain (Hadrian's Wall) and, of course, Rome.  It is thought that Hadrian traveled a great deal because of his dislike of Rome and its politics.  In turn, it was recorded that the Roman politicians of the time did not appreciate Hadrian.  Curiously, Hadrian dedicated the Pantheon to Agrippa, whose name he had inscribed over the entrance to the rotunda.

Around the 7th century, the Pantheon was consecrated a Christian church and many believe that this action both improved the upkeep of the building and  protected it from those who might have otherwise desired to destroy it for salvage.  It continues in use as a church today.  There is, of course, another side to the preservation argument.  It appears that the popes harvested brass from the interior and porch of the Pantheon, to support other projects in the Vatican.  Perhaps the most famous of these is Bernini's Baldacchino in Saint Peter's Basilica, which is reputed to contain brass from the Pantheon.

        One of the decorative altars in the Pantheon in Rome, Italy

In later years the Pantheon became the favored burial place for famous Italians.  It is  the final resting place of Raphael, the composer Corelli and several kings of Italy.

The details of the Pantheon are rich and inviting. Spend some time here taking in the beauty and complexity of monument to the architectural skill of the ancient Romans.  When finished, you will find many places to take a break in the surrounding Piazza della Rotonda.  Just down the street is another of Bernini's unique statues and the impressive Gothic-style church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.

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A bust of the Emperor Hadrian, from the Residenz in Munich, Germany

Hadrian, emperor of Rome in the early 2nd Century, commissioned the Pantheon.










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The Piazza della Rotonda

The Piazza is a pleasant place to meet, greet, eat and people watch.  Its centerpiece fountain is crowned by an Egyptian obelisk attributed to Rameses (Ramses) II and possibly dating from the 13th  century BC.


















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