What You Need to Know About the Pantheon

The Pantheon is one of Rome’s most famous buildings and is known across the globe for its magnificent pillars and iconic dome. With a name that in Greek means “honour to all Gods”, this building’s story dates back to 27 BCE and the reign of Augustus and is just one strand in the rich tapestry that is Roman history. The building was completed much later and was dedicated by Emperor Hadrian around 126 AD. It is one of the best-preserved buildings from ancient Rome and going inside is like stepping back 2,000 years into the opulent life of the Roman Empire.

Pantheon

Designing the Pantheon

Marcus Agrippa was the first to commission the construction of a Roman Temple on this site under the reign of Augustus. The original Pantheon was built and dedicated to Romulus, the mythological founder of Rome, in 27 BC. However, the structure was not long for this world and burned to the ground in 80 AD. Emperor Domitian then took charge of the project to rebuild this temple. A mere 30 years later the very same building was struck by lightning and burned once again. Finally, Emperor Hadrian, besides Apollodorus of Damascus, a famous Greek architect, worked together in 120 AD to produce the Pantheon that is still standing today, almost 2,000 years later. Unfortunately, this duo didn’t work well together, and when an argument about the design of the temple arose, Emperor Hadrian had the architect executed and continued with his own vision.

Building the Pantheon

The Pantheon, Italy

Though the Pantheon was originally a Roman Temple, it was converted into a church in the early 7th century. Many say that this has a lot to do with its phenomenal preservation. Barbarian Raids and the countless battles that were fought over Rome’s history saw every other monument shattered or damaged, but the Pantheon remained intact – a rather ironic outcome considering the fate of the two previous Pantheons. What makes this building such an anomaly, is the fact that the exact composition of materials is still unknown. However, through testing of small samples of the building, it seems that the materials resemble a modern-day concrete mixture, which means the construction methods were significantly ahead of the Pantheon’s time.

The Pantheon’s appearance then and now

Pantheon Inside

The façade of the Pantheon is in great condition considering its incredible age. You can envisage what it looked like in its prime whilst also seeing evidence of multiple attacks. The stonework is peppered with small holes and the bronze was completely stripped from the building by Pope Urban VIII in 1626 to make cannons. In front of the Pantheon now sits a piazza containing the Fontana del Pantheon but at the time of its construction, a colonnade would have extended in front. A colonnade is an arrangement of evenly spaced columns supporting a roof. At this site, it framed a large rectangular area in front of the tall columns of the Pantheon. This colonnade would have allowed visitors to gaze up to a familiar temple frontage and would have obscured the barrel-like shape of the main building.

The columns at the entrance of the Pantheon are massive stone structures sat on huge marble bases and finished with ornately carved tops. Unlike the segmented pillars found in Greek architecture, the columns of the Pantheon were single blocks of stone imported from Egypt. Other marbles and stones used within the Pantheon were sourced and imported from various places within the Roman empire and the use of these highlighted the Roman’s far-reaching and powerful domain.

Inside the Pantheon, the walls are lined with circles and squares and geometric shapes and the vast dome above is imprinted with square coffers. The building would have contained sculptures of gods and deified emperors and the coffers would likely have been beautifully embellished. Whilst not all of the original features remain, the Pantheon is still immensely impressive.

The most incredible feature of the Pantheon is the dome which has been replicated and used as design inspiration all over the world. It is perfectly circular and a sphere with a diameter of 43.3 meters would fit exactly within the dome and area below. The dome was set with concrete and remains the largest unsupported dome in the world! At the top of the dome is the oculus (or eye) – a perfectly circular opening allowing light into the building. The light cast by the sun through the oculus moves almost like an enormous sundial with a circular patch of light moving its way down the walls, along the floor, and up the opposite wall throughout the day. This could also reflect the movement of the heaven above, always watching the goings-on within the Pantheon. The oculus has no glass covering meaning that it is completely open to the elements so if you walk under it on a rainy day, expect to get wet!

To visit the Pantheon and to cast your eye over the beautiful, colourful marbles and up to the skies above is a unique experience. When you enter you will see why this building was so favoured by Hadrian and why he liked many of his visitors to meet him there. Spend some time walking around the huge building and imagine all that would have walked here. You can also visit the tombs of the Italian monarchy and the artist Raphael. To witness the sheer size of the dome and experience its history is an experience like no other, and to this day remains one of the most popular destinations in Rome.

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