The Pantheon is not only one of the Ancient wonders of the world but is synonymous with Rome today. This massive temple/ church/ monument has been fascinating us for the last two thousand years. But how much do you really know about the Pantheon and how about some cool Pantheon facts?
Brandon’s Pro Tip: Planning can be tough. You read a bunch, forget it, then read more. I like to bookmark helpful posts in a folder so I can circle back prior to or during my trip.
17 Astounding Facts About The Pantheon
While there were many temples built throughout the Roman empire, none of them have been continually in service for the last 2,000 years! The Pantheon has stood the test of time and become a national monument in Rome. But how much do you really know about this structure? Keep reading as you will learn some Pantheon facts that not everyone knows about.
17. It’s Original Purpose is Unknown
One of the strangest facts about the Pantheon is we don’t know who built it. The word Pantheon translates to all-worship or all-gods depending on how you look at it. Contrary to what many have written on the internet, the use of the building was not to worship all pagan gods. Pagan gods didn’t appreciate sharing a temple with other gods.
Some exceptions are for gods conjoined in their purposes like Castor & Pollux. Also, a deified couple like Antonius Pius and Faustina his wife share a temple. But in general, the Romans built temples individually dedicated to a single deity.
What the Roman used the Pantheon for is undocumented at best making any reason I provided mostly assumption or guess. A strong theory from Professor of Archeology Amanda Claridge is that the Pantheon existed for the worship of Emperors yet to be deified. It is no mystery that Romans did not like to worship Emperors as gods until after their death. Claridge states in her Rome Archeological Guide, “the Pantheon provided a setting–not a temple in the conventional sense–in which the living emperor would appear in the company with the gods (including his own deified predecessors).
16. This is the 3rd Pantheon on Site
According to Amanda Claridge, the Pantheon was first built between 27-25 BC but that building would not be recognizable today. The first structure was built by Marcus Agrippa who was a Roman Consul under the first Emperor of Rome, Ceaser Augustus. The original structure was built primarily out of wood and subsequently burnt down about 100 years later in 80 AD.
Domitian took a second shot at it and the structure was struck by lightning and burnt to the ground in 110 AD. You have to realize that these incidents would come across as very bad omens for Rome during this otherwise prosperous time. Lightening was controlled by Jupiter (Zeus) and if it struck the building it would likely signify he was unhappy with it or the Romans in general.
Trajan, emperor at the time, would have likely begun the structure and Hadrian would have finished it. Hadrian was a great Emperor and very humble so he did not dedicate the structure to himself – something he only did one time. He instead dedicated it to the man who originally built it; Marcus Agrippa. We will get to that when we go over the porch.
15. Unsure Who Built It
Who built the Pantheon? Many believe the architect responsible is Apollodorus of Damascus but this is again speculation. We do know that Hadrian commissioned renovations on the Pantheon which were completed between 125 AD and 128 AD.
14. It Became a Church
One of the most pertinent facts about Pantheon is its survival. In 609 A.D. the Pantheon was converted into a church in by Pope Boniface IV. A rough history states that Christians were complaining about being plagued by pagan ghosts that haunted the building so it was then converted to a church.
This is the principal reason that the building is still standing today. Many other Ancient Roman buildings were built to withstand time, but not the recycling of its material. Once it was a church, nobody was allowed to loot the building. It is still a church today and is called St. Mary and the Martyrs.
13. There are Kings Buried Inside
Vittorio Emmanuelle was a Sardinian King who successfully unified all of the sub-kingdoms of Italy to form one great nation between 1861 – 1871. He was from the Casa Savoia which was a great noble family established in 1003 AD. Their family still has successors today although their titles are not recognized.
Emmanuel’s army, led by the great Giuseppe Garibaldi, successfully unified the peninsula under the rule of one monarch. Some sub-kingdoms joined peacefully and others by force. The final stop was the battle of Castelfidardo which is when Garibaldi fought and was victorious over the Papal forces. The catholic church controlling armies is extremely foreign to us today.
Victor Emmanuel II died in 1878 and was buried in the Pantheon. His tomb reads Padre della Patria which translates to the Father of the Fatherland. The fact that he was allowed to be buried here is a mystery. Pope Pius IX refused to meet with Emmanuel after he overtook Rome and never acknowledged his reign. Then, he allows him to be buried inside the Pantheon which is a Catholic Church?
Umberto I, the second and last King of Italy and also a Savoia, is buried in the same tomb.
12. The Porch Should be Higher
The porch is significantly different from the inner drum. It is literally the square peg and round hole dilemma. Many speculate why the building’s porch design does not match the width of the drum.
If you look directly at the structure you can see the drum behind the porch which, for a lack of better words, makes the exterior look ugly. Some think this was due to a shortage of materials during construction or even a shipwreck that caused the loss of some columns from Egypt.
11. Raphael the Painter is Also Buried Inside
Raphael’s tomb sits in the back left-hand side of the structure. He is buried next to his fiancee Maria Bibbiena which was not by his design. He was madly in love with Margherita Lute who was a baker’s daughter and the subject of many of his works of art including La Fornarina (Palazzo Barberini) which translates literally to the baker’s daughter.
Raphael, who lived from 1483 to 1520 and arguably died on his birthday, is situated under a statue of Mary holding baby Jesus to her left which was done by an artist named Lorenzetto.
His tomb reads ILLE HIC EST RAFFAEL, TIMUIT QUO SOSPITE VINCI, RERUM MAGNA PARENS ET MORIENTE MORI which was translated by Alexander Pope to read, “Living, great nature feared he might outvie Her works; and, dying, fears herself may die.”
10. The Original Inscription Is Still there
While Hadrian commissioned the rebuilding of the temple for the third time, the original inscription to Marcus Agrippa is still there. This was a tendency of Hadrian to not put his own name on the buildings he rebuilt. Marcus Agrippa was the top General of Augustus, who was the first emperor of Rome.
The inscription on the front reads: M AGRIPPA L. F. COS TERTIUM FECIT or Marcus Agrippa, Son of Lucius, Thrice Consul, Made This. There is also another inscription that is extremely difficult to say that reads: pantheum vetustate corruptum cum omni cultu restituerunt or with every refinement they restored the Pantheum, worn by age. This was likely a superficial upgrade that would be non-structural.
You would have most likely seen massive statues of Caesar Augustus and Marcus Agrippa on the front porch in the two alcoves. You also would have probably seen statues of Venus and Mars. Julius Caesar, the father of Augustus, claimed to have descended from Venus.
9. The Walls are Really, really Thick
One of the coolest facts about the Pantheon is these massive walls. As you can imagine, to build something that is as big and lasted as long, you must have a pretty solid foundation. Considering the fact as well that when you build a dome, the pressure is exerted outwards and not just down. Therefore they had to build the walls 20 ft ( 6m) thick!
While today it is hard to see this, there are certain areas when you are inside that you can peek at. When you compare the original brick to other parts of the interior, it gives you a great idea of how thick the walls actually are.
8. The Bronze Was recycled
In the 17th century, Pope Urban VIII (Barberini) ordered significant material to be taken from the Pantheon including bronze which adorned the ceiling of the portico. This is where the phrase, “What the barbarians did not do the Barberini did.”
This refers to the barbarians who sacked Rome in antiquity taking most of its wealth. The bronze was used for Bernini’s famous Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica.
7. There Were Once Bell Towers
One of the overlooked facts of the Pantheon is that there were once bell towers. With the idea to make the building resemble a church, the Barberini pope ordered Bernini to create two bell towers. These were put up around the same time that the bronze was being removed in order to decorate other buildings throughout the city.
Afterwards, in the 19th century they were removed since their nicknames became ass’s ears.
6. The Doors Are Not Original
Some facts about the Pantheon that people tend to overlook are the doors. The current bronze doors that you see at the Pantheon are ancient, but not the originals. You can tell that the door is too small by looking at the marble door frame. Together with the threshold, they have been deeply recut to accommodate the smaller doors.
That is not to say that they haven’t been there for a long time, since at least the 15th century. Supposedly the original doors of the Pantheon could be on at the church of St. John of Lateran, but the fact is that we will never truly know!
5. The Columns are One Solid Piece of Stone
What that means is that each column is one piece of stone. In ancient times, it was quite common to build columns using many slabs of marble or stone and piling them up together in a way to make it almost unnoticeable that it is not one piece. Each of these columns are one solid piece of stone and they are 48ft (15m) high!
Since the columns would have been coming from Egypt, how in the world did they get them to Rome? Well, they would first have to transport them by ship across the raging Mediterranean Sea that could take months. Once they get them to land, they have to drag them on wooden rollers ( yes drag 48ft columns by hand) until they arrived at their desired spot. At that point, they would usually raise them up with elephants. Impressed yet?
4. Originally the Area wasn’t So Open
Today the Pantheon has been cleared of any buildings right next to it, which gives it a much more prominent view. Back in the day there were definitely a few differences, which I will explain now. First of all the ground was much lower, so you would have needed to walk up a large row of steps to go inside the Pantheon ( today you actually walk down into it due to the rising of the ground).
Secondly, there was a covered portico that covered the entire area on all three sides leading up to the building. This portico would have been with colonnades in marble going all the way around it. Connected to the back of the Pantheon was a temple dedicated to Neptune. Today if you go behind the monument, you can still see some friezes in marble of dolphins!
3. There is a Hole in The Dome
Once you walk inside your eyes will be drawn to the dome above you. Many people stop in the doorway causing traffic jams and we can’t blame you. That is the effect the architect would have longed for. I’ve written it in other blogs, but the architecture of Rome was heavily focused on showing the superiority of the Romans and the Pantheon was no different.
The opening in the center is called Oculus in Latin which means eye. Rain and other elements do get inside the structure when doors are closed. You’ll see the floor sloping down into the center and drains in place to allow water to leave the structure. There is a bronze ring on the interior of the oculus and there would have likely been decorative bronze fixtures in all of the 140 coffers. By having an opening in the middle like that, it would have allowed for natural light to enter and lighten the entire temple.
2. The Dome is Awesome!
These could be facts or opinions of the Pantheon, but I think the dome is simply awesome! The building is 145ft (44.4M) tall by 145ft (44.4M) wide and built completely from stone, brick, and concrete. The dome is made entirely out of concrete with 5 rows of 28 coffers that diminish in size as you get closer to the oculus. Archeologists have studied the building extensively and realize that they used lighter and lighter material in the cement as they got higher up. This allowed the building to sustain all the pressure on it. Genius!
The dome is a perfect hemisphere and you would be able to fit a sphere inside the structure with a diameter of 44.4M which would touch the ceiling, floor, and walls. The building is perfect and thus its construction is a mystery. Some believe a complex scaffolding was used to lay the concrete and others believe the entire building was filled with sand from Ostia. Today, all you can do is enjoy it
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1. The Dome is Record-Breaking!
Remember that the Pantheon was built 2,000 years ago. Keep that in mind as I tell you that it held the record for the largest span of concrete until 1958! The building that finally beat it was the CNIT building in Paris.
Want another record? Well the Pantheon is also the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever built even to this day! If this doesn’t impress my friends then nothing will.