One of the most visited monuments in Rome is the Pantheon, an architectural wonder that stands strong since ancient Roman times. Why was it built? Read about why the Eternal City’s best-preserved monument is so celebrated. Here is the story fo the Pantheon in Rome!
Construction, Fire, Reconstruction, Fire, Final Construction
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.
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.
Onto a brief history and use of the Pantheon.
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.
The structure would have been adorned with a world of riches after its 3rd and final construction – very different from the building you see today. In Roman times, you would walk up and likely see a bronze covered shimmering outer dome. That bronze was removed by Constans the II and lead has since replaced it for protection.
There was also likely bronze on the interior of the dome as well which would have been removed and repurposed likely in Rome. Troops sacking the city would have not taken the effort to build a 44.4M structure to take bronze off the interior of the dome. Easy to grab riches would have been their focus.
Raphael was buried here by request along with a few other artists and architects such as Baldassare Peruzzi.
Two bell-towers are added to the front of the Pantheon to give it more of a church-like look. Pope Urban VIII (Barberini) takes significant material 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 went to Bernini’s famous Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Raphael’s tomb was opened up and examined to quell rumors that his body was not inside which were proven to be incorrect after medical inspection.
In the same century, the two Bernini bell-towers were removed from the Pantheon which would be Bernini’s second belltower fiasco in Rome.
First two and only kings of Italy, Vittorio Emmanuelle II & Umberto I, found their final resting place inside the Pantheon.
Who Built the Pantheon?
Records state it was originally built in 27 B.C. How do we know? Well, the inscription on the front of the structure read
If you don’t read Latin, this means “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time”. Marcus Agrippa, general of the Roman legions, was Emperor Octavian Augustus’s best buddy. However, it’s important to note that what we see today is the reconstruction done by Emperor Hadrian around 120 A.D. This means that the Pantheon in Rome (as we see it now) is almost 19 centuries old!
What is a Pantheon?
The mystical name of the Pantheon in Rome derives from the Greek adjective that means “honor all gods”. In fact, the Pantheon was built as a temple dedicated to the worship of Pagan Roman gods.
In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV and emperor Phocas converted it into the Christian church we see nowadays. These days, the Pantheon in Rome currently conducts Mass on Saturdays and Sundays. And so, if you’d like to attend mass at the Pantheon, check out the info here.
During the Hellenistic period, the name Pantheon had a very clear meaning. A temple dedicated to a deified king and other gods associated with him.Filippo Coarelli, professor of Roman Antiquities at Perugia University
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To begin with, let’s start with the exterior of the Pantheon in Rome. Its portico is built in the Greek style; Emperor Hadrian was a Grecophile. The columns, hard to miss, stand 40 feet high and are five feet in diameter. It’s true, gazing at the facade of the building will give you shivers, but wait until you see what’s on the inside.
The Pantheon is considered a rotunda, a circular drum structure. Perfect mathematically, the Pantheon’s dome has an opening in the center. To put it in numbers, the sphere’s height is equal to the radius and is 43.3 meters (142ft). In fact, the Pantheon in Rome still holds the world record for having the largest unsupported concrete dome.
Why is the Pantheon Famous?
You have to imagine that as you walk inside the Pantheon, you are walking inside a building that people have been constantly walking into for the last 1,900 years! If that fact doesn’t impress then probably nothing will. How many other examples of ancient buildings do you know of where you can say that? Exactly, I cannot think of any other either. Enjoy it.
The building itself gives you one of those rare insights to what ancient life and architecture would have been like. So not only is this building extremely important for modern day archeology, but also for regular people like us who love to dream what life was like back in the day.
When entering the building from the portico outside, you can’t see the original bronze decorations above the pillars. This is because the great Lorenzo used the material to create the Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica. In addition to its importance in ancient Rome, the Pantheon in Rome is home to important tombs.
In fact, the great Italian painter and architect Raphael rests here. The inscription on his crypt translates to “In life, Nature feared to be outdone by him. In death, she feared too she would die.” As epitaphs go, it’s not bad!
Why does the Pantheon Have a Hole?
The opening in the center is known as the oculus or “eye” in Latin. Despite its religious symbolism as the “window to the other world”, the purpose of the opening is of extreme importance for the engineering and stability of the Pantheon. Also, the Oculus is the only source of natural light in the building.
On April 21st at noon (Rome’s birthday), when the sun is at the equinox, a beam of sunlight enters through the Pantheon’s Oculus and exits through the grille above the entrance gate. As a result, the light passes through the grille and lights up a courtyard. To put into perspective how mind-blowing this is, think about how the ancient Romans built the Pantheon to create this effect 2,000 years ago.
What was the Pantheon Used For?
According to Amanda Claridge, the Pantheon was one of the places where the emperor Hadrian held court. He would sit upon a public tribunal and hear petitions and give judgments. We also hear of an imperial edict being read out in Pantheo in 368 or 370 AD.
So while the original building was used as a dynastic temple to the Julio-Claudian family, by the time of Hadrian, he was using it as a seat for certain government functions. However, imagine him sitting on a public tribunal inside of this massive dome. He must have made quite an impression!
In 609 AD the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave to Pope Boniface IV the Pantheon who turned it into a church- S. Maria ad Martyres. From this time in the middle ages to the present, the Pantheon has been allowed to survive and allow us to look at it in all its jaw-dropping splendor. In my opinion, it is only when you can see a building such as the pantheon, that it allows you to understand how amazing the Ancient Roman Empire really was.
The Arval Brethren in 59 AD would meet here. The Arval Brethren was a college of 12 priests who made regular vows for the well-being of the imperial family. They would meet under the porch of the Pantheon instead of the porch of the Temple of Imperial Harmony in the Roman Forum.Oxford Archeological Guide by Amanda Claridge
If you’re wondering “if the Pantheon is free?”, you’ll be happy to know that there’s no need to buy Pantheon Rome tickets. That’s right, there’s no admission charge to enter. And while it probably won’t take you very long to look around, it’s probably a good idea to consider renting an audio guide at the desk near the entrance to make the most of your visit. If you’d like to visit the Pantheon, consider an e-bike Rome tour that includes this incredible site, in addition to most of the other major attractions in Rome.
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Where is the Pantheon in Rome
Short Answer: Center of Rome
How long to get there from other famous sites?
- Spanish Steps by Foot: 15 Minutes
- The Trevi Fountain by Foot: 10 Minutes
- Piazza Navona by Foot: 5 Minutes
Address: Piazza Della Rotonda, 00186 Roma
Opening Hours: Mon–Sat 9a.m. – 7:15p.m. and Sun 9a.m. –12:45p.m.
Tel:+39 06 68300230
In order to see the Trevi Fountain you will have to come on foot. In the center of Rome they have what is called ZTL which is an Italian abbreviation that means that only local residents are allowed, with a special permit, to drive in this area. You can take a taxi, which can let you off close, but you will still have about a 5 min. walk from any direction.
One of the magical things about the center of Rome is that there is no rhyme or reason for the way the streets were made. One theory is that after Rome was defeated back in the 4th century BC by the Gauls, they rebuilt the city so fast that it still reflects the haphazard streets you see today.
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