Traveling Rome: The Pantheon
Rome, the ancient city. Home to the ruins of the greatest empire ruled by man, power seat of the Catholic world, and the capitol of pickpocketing. In my new series, I’ll take you through the history of some of the greatest sights in the ancient city and give you some practical advice if you plan on visiting there yourselves. So without further eddo, I present to you, Rome.
Weekdays: 8:30 to 7:30 Saturday: 9:00 to 6:00 Sunday: 9:00 to 1:00
Central Location makes it easy to walk
Like most things in Rome, the Pantheon is an incredibly old building. In fact, the current Pantheon is the same building built by Emperor Hadrian almost two thousand years ago. What makes the Pantheon unique in all of Rome, however, is that it has been in uninterrupted use for the entirety of its existence. Now a Catholic church, the Pantheon was originally developed as a center of worship for many of the gods worshiped in ancient Rome. In fact, the name Pantheon is a Greek composite word which translates into “all gods”. The Pantheon’s pagan use went on for five hundred years before Emperor Phocas gave the church to Pope Boniface in order to have it sanctified into a Catholic church.
While much of ancient Rome was torn down and looted by invaders and medieval Popes, the Pantheon’s status as a Catholic Church saved it from much of this. The outside marble, statues, and bronze inlay were gradually removed over the years, but the inside temple is just as beautiful as it was two thousand years ago. But more beautiful than the grand marble pillars, brought to ancient Rome by boat all the way from Egypt, and the many gorgeous paintings is the large, perfectly circular dome ceiling covering the temple. Built entirely out of concrete, the dome is a man-made wonder, holding the record to this day as the largest dome built of unreinforced concrete. Its dome would remain a complete mystery for over a thousand years, its construction lost to the ages. Only during the Renaissance would the mystery be rediscovered when engineer Brunelleschi would be tasked with creating the famous dome ordaining the beautiful Florence Cathedral.
When traveling through Rome, the Pantheon seems to jut out suddenly from the modern day buildings. It is a good representation of what to expect with Rome in general, the modern wrapping around the ancient. The Pantheon has always been situated in the central bustle of Rome and this remains true. The small square Piazza della Rotonda which houses the Pantheon is constantly crowded during its operating time. The building itself might seem small, especially when compared to the huge Renaissance cathedrals, but for a pagan temple its actually quite large. Most Roman pagan temples were simple outdoor shrines, one more thing that makes the Pantheon a unique experience.
Things to Watch For
Once you enter, take a moment to admire the marble floor. It remains unchanged since the original construction. While the interior can be crowded and hard to get around, try to admire as much of the Pantheon walls as you can. While the art is more modern then the ancient Roman floor, the paintings and statues represent some of the best art created throughout the last few hundred years, some as late as the 15th century and as early as the 19th. But there are two things inside the Pantheon that every visitor has to see. One of them is quite easy, simply look up. Starring back down at you like a great eye is the interior of the world renowned dome. The hole in the center of the dome not only helps to reduce the weight on the structure but also is the only source of light in the entire temple besides the entry door made of solid bronze. I advice going either early or late in the day as the beam of light through the darkening temple is quite the sight to see. And don’t worry about puddles on a rainy day, the floor has a built in drainage system courtesy of the Romans.The second sight is the tomb of the famous Renaissance painter and ninja turtle namesake, Raphael. As one of the Renaissance trinity, his paintings are some of the most important in all of history. Three niches to the left of the entrance you’ll find him and his fiancé Maria Bibbiena, who died before they could marry, entombed in sarcophagi beneath a beautiful statue, called the Madonna of the Rock, which was commissioned by Raphael himself before his death.