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The Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa in year 27 BC, during his third consulship. The temple was built in the aftermath of the Battle of Actium which ended a short Roman civil war.
However, the Pantheon didn’t stand for long as a fire destroyed the majority of it in year 80 AD. The temple was rebuilt but burned again 30 years later.
Rebuilt once again
The Romans didn’t give up and rebuilt the temple once again, this time under the emperor Hadrian. In order to honor the Pantheons first founder, Hadrian used the text of the original inscription which you can see above the main entrance. The text is Latin and says: “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this”.
A new role
In the 7th century, the Pantheon was turned into a church dedicated to Saint Mary and the martyrs. This is one of the reasons the Pantheon is so well preserved.
The building's consecration as a church saved it from the abandonment, destruction and the worst of the spoliation which befell the majority of ancient Rome's buildings during the early medieval period.
Pantheon did however not avoid all spoliation. In the 16th century, Pope Urban the 8th decided to remove all the bronze covering from the ceiling of the portico. The majority of the bronze was used to forge canons for the papal fortress of Castel Sant'Angelo. Pieces of the external marble have also been removed over the centuries.
Why visit the Pantheon ?
The Roman Pantheon is one of the greatest spiritual buildings in the world. The temple is devoted to the gods of ancient Rome, just as its name suggests. The name “Pantheon” derives from Greek and actually means “Every god”. The temple been in almost continuous use throughout its history.
The exterior of the Pantheon is beautiful, but not what it is most famous for. Its inside is what makes it truly stunning. Visitors to the Pantheon will feel very small as they will find themselves in an open huge space. Some believe the sphere was meant to symbolize the vault of heaven, and once entering it, it’s easy to understand why.
The rotunda height is the same as its diameter, making is a perfect sphere. A large hole is located in the center of the roof. This is known as an oculus. The main purpose of the oculus was to let light stream into the building and to lead out smoke from sacred fires.
The hole in the roof means that when it rains outside, it also rains in the Pantheon. The Romans solved this by making the floor slightly convex so that the water flows away and get taken care of by a drainage system.
The thickness of the dome varies from around 6 meters at the base of the dome to 1 meter around the oculus. The concrete at the top is also lighter than the concrete at the base, in order to prevent the dome from collapsing. This was achieved by mixing in different types of stone in the concrete.
Shrines of gods
Along the inner walls of the Pantheon stand several smaller shrines. There used to be devoted to the seven gods linked to the planets of the Sun, the Moon, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars. With the advent of Christianity, some of them were instead dedicated to Christian martyrs.
In the middle of the inner wall stands a small but beautiful altar. The present high altar and the apse were commissioned by Pope Clement XI in the early 18th century. The original apse, now in the Chapel of the Canons in the Vatican, has been dated to the 13th century, although tradition claims that it is much older.
The Pantheon also functions as a Mausoleum. It is the resting place for members of the Italian Royal family and several great Renaissance artists.
A place worth visiting
Today, the Pantheon together with the surrounding square, Piazza della Rotonda, is one of the most popular places in the city. The Pantheon is also one of the most copied pieces of architecture in the world. The US Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial, the Paris Panthéon and many more have all been based upon this temple.
The Pantheon is by far the best preserved Roman monument. Everything one see here has not changed much in two thousand years. The majority of the columns and the inner decorations are still the same. Even the floor is the same one that the ancient emperors like Hadrian and Charles V used to walk on.
Tomb inside the Pantheon. © Mollye Knox.
The main altar. © Mollye Knox.
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