Rome, Pantheon

(continuer en français) – Published: April 16, 2022

Pantheon, Rome, Italy

The Pantheon in Rome has survived almost unchanged since it was rebuilt in 125 by the Emperor Hadrian. It is an amazing testimony to the many ups and downs of 20 centuries of history that the Pantheon has remained virtually unchanged from what it was.

Today it is free to visit. All day long there is a long line snaking through Piazza della Rotonda, trying to stay in the shade as much as possible. Modest dress is required of visitors, and this encourages the harassing solicitation of shawl sellers to hide bare shoulders.

The exterior

The architecture of the Pantheon is unprecedented in the ancient world, resembling the juxtaposition of several monuments put together. It begins with a classical façade composed of a portico of several rows of monolithic columns ending with a Corinthian capital. The whole is topped by a sober triangular pediment, its bronze decoration having disappeared.

Then a round shape extends beyond the rectangular frame of the entrance, resulting in an imposing dome dominating the surrounding landscape. In the past, the walls were covered with marble, of which little remains. Similarly, the bronze covers were taken to cast cannons or later the baldachin of Saint Peter’s in Rome.

The interior

Upon entering the monument, one’s gaze is drawn upwards to the vault with its large round opening directly onto the heavens. With a diameter and height of 43.30 metres, 141 feet, the dome is a remarkable architectural achievement for its time, the largest in antiquity.

The vast circular room unfolds without the obstruction of walls or columns, revealing a volume that visitors must navigate by walking clockwise along the wall. The decoration is sober, with the regular caissons of the vault and false windows on the crown at the top of the walls.

The ancient temple

The Pantheon was originally a syncretic temple for all the deities of the vast Roman Empire. Like the emperor Hadrian himself, having travelled widely and familiarised himself with the different cultures existing in the empire, the Pantheon manifested the recognition of the diversity of cults, sometimes of the same gods under different names according to the regions.

Curiously, no gods were added later, nor was the temple used as a mausoleum to honour great men, contrary to the modern concept. Unfortunately the representations of ancient gods are replaced by Catholic statues, but the spirit remains.

The church

The temple was converted to exclusive Catholic worship by Pope Boniface IV in the 7th century. The place remains a church, but the altar and a few rows of seats seem a little lost in the round immensity. However, the visit is interrupted at the time of the services.

At the end of the Papal States, the Italian monarchy obtained from the Pope that the Pantheon became the burial place of kings, confirming the modern vocation of the monument.

National glories

It was not until the Renaissance that important people whose death caused emotion were honoured with a burial in the Pantheon. This began with artists like Raphael.

Following agreements with the papacy, two Italian sovereigns were also buried there, Victor Emmanuel II (1878) and Humbert I (1900). Their tombs are the subject of a solemn presentation.

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13 comments

  1. I have such fond memories of our time in Rome. That was nearly a decade ago, so it was nice to be reminded. When we visited the Pantheon it was unbelievably crowded inside. I guess that’s what happens when there is no entrance fee!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a subject that often comes up, how to ensure good visitor management in highly popular places, free or not, the solution has not yet been found. In the meantime, we must accept to patiently share with all those who have the same curiosity at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

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