IT’S a short walk from Piazza Venezia through cobblestone alleys to this next must-see spot in the Eternal City. If you feel lost, worry not for tourists fill the city streets day in and out and the movement from one major attraction to another is pretty much like a pilgrimage. “Ride the tide” so to speak, and you’ll arrive with them at the next ancient marvel. Or, you can ask for directions, whatever makes you feel more secure.
The Pantheon is one of Rome’s must-see spot that can be accessed by foot from Capitoline Hill, Trajan’s Forum and Vittorio Emanuele II Monument cutting through charming small streets that lead to the square called Piazza della Rotunda, which features a fountain at its center, the Fontana del Pantheon. The area is called Region IX or the Circus Flaminius referring to how the areas in ancient Rome acquire their nicknames—by the regions’ major landmarks.
This landmark is one of the best-preserved buildings of Ancient Rome. Built during the reign of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), along with the Baths of Agrippa, the Basilica of Neptune, the Pantheon was a part of Marcus Agrippa’s building program after the Battle of Actium (the decisive confrontation of the Last War of the Roman Republic). The structure suffered devastations by fire in its lifetime but was rebuilt by emperors, Domitian and Hadrian, during their respective reigns. Preserved well during its history, the Pantheon has been in continuous use from the time it was built to its present use as a Christian Church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs when the ruling emperor gave the building to Pope Boniface IV in the 7th century. The conversion saved it from abandonment and destruction during the early medieval period when the worst of the spoliation that happened to the majority of ancient Rome's edifices.
Architecturally, the building’s design is impressive— under the pediment of the portico are massive Corinthian columns (16 columns weighing 60 tons each) made of granite quarried from the eastern mountains of Egypt (imagine the logistics required to transport it to Rome during the ancient times). The porch is attached to the main circular structure consisting of the vast rotunda under the concrete dome designed with sunken panels called coffers and at its apex, the oculus, the dome’s central opening to the sky that serves as the interior’s source of natural light and ventilation system.
Here’s something to ponder on—the designer was able to create the dome with the height of the oculus (floor to apex) equal to the diameter of the dome’s interior circle (think: a 142-feet sphere will fit under this building’s dome). This architectural feature is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome two thousand years (almost) after it was built.
Of course, as the users change the interior gets modified. From the original design to honor the divinities, it was pillaged during the medieval times. It was converted to a Catholic Church and the high altars and apses, niches and chapels were added, and since the Renaissance, the Pantheon were adorned with paintings and has been used as a tomb (prominent Italians are buried here including 2 kings and a queen).
The Pantheon is a popular destination for us as tourists, so it is for the locals. It’s a place to pray and be at on important Catholic days of obligation, or perhaps get married in. Now, wouldn’t that be a dream wedding.
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