Pantheon Travel Guide
The Roman Pantheon is the most influential, most complete, as well as the most well-preserved building of ancient Rome. Bearing the stamps on its side that reveal its age, it is known that the structure was built by Emperor Hadrian, and that it dates back to between 118 and 125 AD, making it, once, the largest concrete structure in the world. From then to this day, it remains one of the city’s most magnificent sights and its beauty has been so well-known even hundreds of years ago, that Leonardo da Vinci studied it as part of his preparation for working on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The original use of the Pantheon still isn’t that clear, though the name suggests that it may have once been a temple dedicated to all of the pagan gods of ancient Rome until it was converted into a Christian church in 609 AD. These days, it is an active church that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs, a major tourist destination, and is a favorite venue among many couples for holding their weddings at. This means that the Pantheon has stood against the test of time, and has been in use as a place of worship since the time that it was built, which is testament to the architectural and engineering marvels that this building is.
What to See
Among the main features and sights at the Parthenon that visitors may be interested in are the following:
The Pantheon itself:
For those who have an appreciation for architecture and design, the Pantheon is a wonder to behold. The structure’s shape is basically a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder, with its dome shaped in a perfect hemisphere that is cast in solid concrete, no small feat, considering the era that it was built in. The dome rests on a solid ring wall, while on its exterior the building is clad in almost paper-light brick.
One of the biggest challenges that the Romans had to face during the Pantheon’s construction phase was the dome’s enormous weight. In order to support this load, the heights and thicknesses of the walls were adjusted accordingly. They also had to use different types of concrete for the walls and the dome, which resulted in the base of the walls becoming very thick. Meanwhile, at the top of the dome near the oculus, a lighter type of concrete was used, and the layer was much thinner. They also installed coffers in the ceiling and the opening that the oculus provided also helped in lightening the load of the dome on the walls. It is also worth noting that the dome of the Pantheon was the largest in the world with a span of 142 feet, up until the 14th century when Brunelleschi created the dome in Florence.
Named after the Latin word for “eye”, the Oculus refers to the 27-foot-wide circular opening in the domed ceiling of the Parthenon, lined with the same bronze rim it has had since the Roman era. It is the building’s only source of natural light, and it is also a cooling feature which allows air and rain into the building to cool it down on hot summer days. Rainwater is collected in the slightly sloped floor directly underneath the oculus, and then carried off by the still-functioning ancient Roman drainpipes beneath. Because it is the only source of natural light, the ray of sunlight that shines through the Oculus, depending on the time of day and the season, illuminates various parts of the Parthenon’s interior and creates an ever-changing play of light and shadow which adds to the surreal ambience of the structure.
Also known as the porch, it is composed of 16 monolithic columns that weight about 60 tons, and were transported all the way from Egypt on barges (again, no small feat for the time). The set of columns are of Corinthian design and is topped by a pediment upon which are inscribed the words, “M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIUM·FECIT” which translates to, “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, during his third consulate, built this.” even though it was Hadrian that actually built the Parthenon. The pediment once held bronze statuary reenacting the battle of the Titans, but Pope Urban VIII had it removed in order to create the baldachin in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Interior and Tombs of Famous People
Inside the Pantheon can be found the beautiful, monumental tombs of many notable personalities, all set into the walls. The tombs include those of the artist Raphael and his fiancée, and those of the first king of a unified Italy, the Father of the Fatherland (“Padre della Patria”) Vittorio Emanuele II, as well as his successor Umberto I. Other than the gorgeous tombs and their sculptures, the original 7th-century icon of the Madonna and Child can also be seen above the altar, and the apse is decorated with a golden mosaic featuring a design consisting of crosses. To the right of the entrance can also be seen the 15th century fresco by Melozzo da Forli, depicting the Annunciation, while nearby, second-century décor continue to lend beauty to the interiors.
Piazza della Rotonda
Just outside the Pantheon is the lovely Piazza della Rotonda which prides itself of its 15th century fountain, the Fontana del Pantheon that was originally created by Giacomo Della Porta under Pope Gregory XIII in 1575. In the center of this fountain is a 20-foot Egyptian obelisk made of red marble that was originally constructed by Pharaoh Ramses II for the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis. It was once brought to Rome to be reused as a shrine to the Egyptian goddess Isis, and it originally stood somewhere to the southeast of the Parthenon. It wasn’t until the 17th century that it was moved, and used to crown the fountain, where it remains today. The Piazza della Rotonda is a high traffic area, not just due to its fountain and obelisk, but mostly because of its central location within the historic area of Rome, and its proximity to the Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s most beautiful squares.
Tips and Advice
- The Pantheon is located in the heart of Rome and is a short walk from the Tiber River. It is also very near the Via del Corso, a main shopping street, as well as a number of other attractions. It is possible to walk there, or to get there by bus or tram.
- Keep in mind that the Pantheon is currently in use as a church, so avoid flash photography, keep your voice low, and basically try to behave in order to not disturb people in the area who may be worshipping.
- The Pantheon is normally open to visitors Mondays to Saturdays, from 9 am to 6:30 pm, and on Sundays, from 9 am to 1 pm.