Pantheon – Italy

The original Temple built on the site was meant to commemorate Rome’s victory over Cleopatra and Antony at Actium.  A Roman magistrate named Marcus Agrippa sponsored the construction between 27 and 25 BC by. He had commanded the Roman Fleet during the battle and had defeated the Egyptian Navy.

In 80 AD, the structure suffered a fire and was left in ruin.  It wasn’t until 125 AD, that Emperor Hadrian reconstructed it. He had traveled across the Empire and sought to appease all gods.  As a result, the Temple was named the “Pantheon,” a Latin word meaning “all gods”.

The Pantheon has thick brick walls and large marble columns.  Its most impressive feature is its concrete dome that rises to a height of 143 feet.  And in the top of the dome is the oculus, a 27 foot in diameter round opening to the sky that provides the building with its only natural light.

“The Pantheon is widely praised for its feats of architecture and concept of space. At 43m (142 ft) wide and 43m (142 ft) high, it is a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder.

The Pantheon’s huge dome is a perfect hemisphere of cast concrete, resting on a solid ring wall. Outside, the dome is covered in almost weightless cantilevered brick.

With a span of 43.2 m (142 feet), it was the largest dome in the world until Brunelleschi’s Dome was built in Florence between 1420 and 1436.

The portico (porch) is made of 16 monolithic Corinthian columns topped by a pediment. The inscription M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIUM·FECIT means: “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, during his third consulate, built this.”

The bronze doors leading into the building (which are original and were once covered in gold) weigh 20 tons each. The walls of the Pantheon are 7.5m (25 ft.) thick.

The oculus, the only source of natural light in the Pantheon, is a round opening in the center of the dome. It is 27 feet in diameter and open to the sky (the floor is gently sloped to allow for runoff of rainwater).”

Slight modifications would be made by Emperor Severus (193 – 211 AD) and then again by Caracalla (211 – 217 AD).  Statues of various gods / idols would fill the niches. Even animals were sacrificed and subsequently burned in the center of the building – with the smoke escaping via the oculus.

What’s the Point?

When Constantine converted to Christianity, the Empire went through a shakeup.  By 346 AD, pagan worship was prohibited and many temples closed. This included the Pantheon.  A decree was made in 408 AD, that such temples be used anew. In 609 AD, the Byzantine Emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV.  Irony of all ironies, the Pantheon was consecrated as a Christian Church. You can’t have a Christian Pantheon – a Christian House of Worship named for all gods!  In keeping with the ever-increasing Catholic practice of syncretism (that is embracing aspects of every religion and culture), the church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and All Martyrs.

In 667 AD, the building was stripped of its gold roof tiles and heavily looted.  It has gone through a series of restorations and lootings.

During the 16th Century, Michelangelo studied the dome of the Pantheon before beginning work on St. Peter’s Dome at the Vatican.  Its dome is but 2 feet smaller.

Did You Know?

“The Pantheon is one of the best preserved of the ancient buildings in Rome. Boasting the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome with a 30 foot oculus, the Pantheon was the inspiration for Brunelleschi’s groundbreaking Renaissance dome in Florence, the Bramante design for St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheons in Paris and London, the US Capitol and Jefferson Memorial in Washington, and numerous other buildings over the centuries. The Pantheon has been called the most influential building in Western European architecture.”

Some other buildings whose styles were influenced by the Pantheon include the “British Museum Reading Room, Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Low Library at Columbia University and the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.” 

(Jefferson Memorial)