Visiting the Pantheon, Rome, Italy
As one of the oldest and most recognized monuments in all of Italy, the Pantheon is a must see destination on any visit to Rome. In almost continuous use for over two thousand years this architectural marvel of ancient Rome has withstood centuries of earthquakes, war, and looting.
Originally constructed in 27 BC as a temple to the Roman Gods the building was torn down and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian around 120 AD after a fire damaged the original building. The rebuilt structure is the same one that you will see today when you visit the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was the largest dome ever constructed until Filippo Brunelleschi's dome at the Cathedral of Florence, otherwise known as the Duomo, was completed in 1436. The dome of the Pantheon is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, which is quite amazing considering that it is two thousand years old.
The interior of the Pantheon forms a perfect sphere with the distance from the floor to the top of the dome, 142 feet, being exactly equal to its diameter. The honeycomb structure of the rotunda combined with the use of pumice in the concrete helped to reduce the weight of the roof as did the elimination of the apex which was replaced by an oculus.
The oculus is the thirty foot hole in the roof of the Pantheon and is the only source of outside light. Due to this opening, rain will occasionally come in and that is why the floor is sloped toward the center where drains are located. The thickness of the dome at the oculus is only about 4 feet compared with an amazing 21 feet at its base.
The massive grey granite columns supporting the portico weigh sixty tons each. They are thirty nine feet tall, five feet in diameter and made from Egyptian stone. The columns were transported by wooden sleds from their quarry to the Nile River. From there they made their way by barge to Alexandria where they were shipped across the Mediterranean to the ancient port city of Ostia. From Ostia the columns came up the Tiber River to Rome on barges.
The large bronze doors that lead to the inner chamber of the Pantheon were at one time plated with gold. Although the current bronze doors, which measure twenty two feet high are considered to be ancient they are not the original doors of the Pantheon. The bronze doors that presently adorn the Pantheon were made too small for the door frames and have been in place since about the 15th century.
Piazza della Rotonda
The Pantheon stands guard to the Piazza della Rotonda. This open square is a hub of activity and a gathering point for visitors and locals alike.
There are numerous cafes, bars and restaurants in the piazza and it makes for a great location to sit and relax while in the shadow of one of Rome’s greatest monuments. While the Piazza della Rotonda is considered a “touristy” spot, it is still a must visit and the perfect spot to study and gaze at this archaeological wonder of ancient Rome.
The interior of the Pantheon is circular with the diameter across the room measuring 142 feet, the same distance as the height from the floor to the oculus. In the 6th century the Vatican began using the Pantheon as a church and to this day masses are still held here. The Pantheon is also a popular venue for weddings and if you happen onto one while you’re visiting, it will be quite the spectacle to witness. The interior walls of the Pantheon contain a number of high altars, apses and tombs. Some of Rome’s most notable citizens are buried here including two Kings; Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I. The famous painter Raphael and composer Arcangelo Corelli are also entombed here. The walls of the Pantheon contain a number of paintings the most famous of which is the “Annunciation” by Melozzo da Forli.
While many of the restaurants and bars outside the Pantheon on the Piazza della Rotonda are considered touristy this is still a great spot to spend some time. We did find a particularly good restaurant called “The Miscellanea”, that is located near the Pantheon that was a great spot for lunch. The place is recommended by Rick Steves and seemed to cater to the local lunch crowd which is usually a good sign. They had a great menu and the prices were very reasonable. Stop in if you’re looking a bite to eat after spending some time in the Pantheon.
Ciao for now.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio