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Exploring The Pantheon: History’s Most Important Building

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The Roman Pantheon is arguably the most important building in the history of architecture. It’s magnificent dome has served as the inspiration for many other buildings, including the Florence Duomo, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the U.S. Capitol Building. The building itself is almost entirely intact, allowing modern visitors the opportunity to experience the grandeur of Ancient Rome from over 2,000 years ago.

Pantheon at a Glance

Name:The Pantheon
City:Rome, Italy
Type of Site:Architectural, Religious
Constructed:125 A.D. (estimated)
Constructed By:Emperor Hadrian
Known For:Largest Dome Prior to Renaissance

History and Structure of the Pantheon

The word “pantheon” comes from the words “pan” and “theos” – which translate to “all the gods.” Thus, the Pantheon is believed to have been a temple dedicated to all of the Roman gods. However, it is not the first building to sit in this spot. Marcus Agrippa –  a friend, lieutenant, and son-in-law to Caesar Augustus – originally built a temple here in 27 A.D. That temple burnt to the ground in 80 A.D. A second temple was built here but also burned down in 110 A.D. Finally, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon was constructed and completed around 125 A.D.

Upon winding your way to the front of the Pantheon, one of the first things you’ll notice is the huge portico. The portico is constructed in the classic Greek style, with gray granite columns which were imported from Egypt. These gigantic columns measure 39 feet high and 5 foot in diameter and are estimated to weigh about 60 tons. The Greek styled triangular pediment sits atop these pillars, forming a sort of porch that is romantically lit up at night. Directly below the pediment is an inscription that effectively dedicates the structure to Marcus Agrippa.  If you get the chance, spend some time under the portico gazing at the thousands tourists meandering through the Piazza Rotunda.

After walking beneath the Greek styled portico, you enter the second section of the building which is decidedly more Roman. The inside of the Pantheon is dominated by the perfectly round rotunda and dome. The dome is the largest constructed prior to the Renaissance. What’s more, it’s made in the shape of a perfect circle, measuring 142 feet from the floor to the ceiling and from side to side. If you were to remove the dome from its base, it would fit perfectly inside the rotunda below.

The dome’s base measures 23 feet thick and is made from an extremely heavy concrete and travertine mix. (Yes, the Romans actually invented concrete!) Being the brilliant engineers that they were, the Romans made the dome lighter and thinner as it inched toward the top. The top of the dome is just 5 feet thick and made from a much lighter pumice and concrete mix. There is a large opening at the top of the dome known as the “oculus.” It measures about 30 feet across and acts as the Pantheon’s only source of light. Be sure to stand directly underneath it and grab a selfie with your camera pointed up!

One of the reasons that the Pantheon has survived so well is that it has been in continuous use since it was built. The Pantheon was converted to a Christian church in 609 A.D., which probably saved the building from being pillaged for materials during Europe’s Dark Ages. Additionally, it is the burial site of several of Italy’s most important people. Italy’s first two kings since reunification, Vittorio Emmanuel II and Umberto I, as well as Renaissance master Raphael are buried here.

Getting There

The Pantheon is tucked away in the heart of Rome. One of my favorite ways to see it is by taking my own walking tour. Starting from the center of Piazza Navona, head east for one block. Hang a left on Corso del Rinascimento and take your first right onto Via Giustiniani. Wind your way through the small streets for about 2 blocks. You’ll emerge into the Piazza Rotunda, and the Pantheon will tower over the square directly to your right.

Coming from the other direction, leave the Trevi Fountain and walk west on Via d. Muratte for about 3 blocks. When you get to Via del Corso, cross and continue onto Pietra for about 2 more blocks. You should be behind a small church. You’ll want to continue walking to the left on Pastini for about 2 blocks until you end up in the Piazza Rotunda with the Pantheon on the left.

If all else fails, just follow the brown signs with arrows pointing toward the Pantheon. They are everywhere and extremely easy to follow.

If you are looking to avoid the crowds, hit the Pantheon right when it opens. After seeing the inside, be sure to come back for a night-cap. The area is lively, filled with delicious restaurants and interesting people watching. Plus, you don’t want to miss how beautiful the building looks as it is lit up at night.

Hours and Admission

Admission to the Pantheon is free. Hours of operation are as follows:

  • Monday-Saturday: 8:30 AM-7:30 PM
  • Sunday: 9:00 AM-6:00 PM
  • Closed for Mass Saturday at 5:00 PM and Sunday at 10:30 AM

The Pantheon is still a working church, so please be respectful as you enter. Like other churches in Rome, a dress code is enforced. Short skirts, short shorts, and bare shoulders are not permitted. Audio guides are available for about €5 and last approximately 25 minutes.

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Wrapping Up

The Pantheon is one of the most remarkable and important buildings in the history of the Western Culture. Be sure to step inside and appreciate this ancient work of art. When you’re done, return to the area at night, grab a bite to eat, enjoy some people watching, and soak up the atmosphere!

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