What is the Pantheon of Rome and why it is important: history and characteristics of the temple of the gods

The Pantheon Of Rome has been standing for about 1900 years and it was originally the temple of all of the. It was built in 1st century BC by the architect and politician Vipsanius Agrippa and rebuilt in 2nd century AD at the behest ofemperor Hadrian. The exceptional nature of the Pantheon lies in the fact that it has stood for almost two thousand years: the structure that can be admired today is almost the same as at the time of Hadrian. The secret of its longevity lies in the genius of the designers and in the fact that, having been transformed into a Christian church, it was not damaged by the looting of Roman buildings that occurred in the Middle Ages. The Pantheon presents exceptional architectural characteristics, primarily the large concrete domeand until a few months ago it was themost visited building in Italy (thanks also to its free entry, now replaced by a ticket costing €5).

What is the Pantheon

The Pantheon is a church located in Rome in the Pigna district. It is made up a large roundabout (a circular building) and a pronaos (an earlier structure) with Corinthian columns. On the facade there is a frieze showing the famous inscription of Agrippa, builder of the first building. The interior has the shape of a cylinder topped by a hemisphere.

The construction respects precise geometric proportions: the height of the cylinder is equivalent to the length of the radius (21.72m) and the total height of the building coincides with the length of the diameter (43.44m). There dome which tops the building is constructed of concrete and weighs approximately five tons. To ensure that it does not collapse, the designers used various measures: they inserted five rows of “coffers” (i.e. cavities) and used lighter materials as the structure rises upwards.

The dome of the Pantheon

In the center of the dome there is a oculus (round opening) to allow lighting. The floor is inclined so that the rain that penetrates from the oculus flows towards the appropriate drainage holes.

The construction of the Pantheon: from Agrippa to Hadrian

The Pantheon was built as a place of pagan worship in the 1st century BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, architect and close political-military collaborator of Octavian Augustus. The construction probably took place in years 27-25 BC

Bust of Agrippa

The building we see today, however, is not the original one. The structure, damaged by the fires that devastated Rome between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. C., it was rebuilt from scratch by order of Emperor Hadrian. The work almost certainly took place between 115 and 127.

From pagan temple to Christian church

In the Early Middle Ages many monuments from the Roman era were destroyed to recover building materials. The Pantheon was saved because it was transformed into a church: in 608 the Eastern Roman emperor Seal, who nominally held power over Rome, donated the building to Pope Boniface IV, who the following year transformed it into a church dedicated to Santa Maria ai Martiri. As the centuries passed, the population of Rome took to calling the building Santa Maria Rotundadue to the shape, and from this derives the current naming of the square in front, Piazza della Rotonda.

In the centuries of the Late Middle Ages and the Modern Age, the Pantheon underwent various interventions. Particularly relevant were those ordered in 1625 by the Pope Urban VIII, born Maffeo Barberini, who had some bronze elements dismantled and melted. The decision outraged the population of Rome, among whom a popular saying still spread today: «What the barbarians didn’t do, the Barberini did» (the Barberini family, to which Urban VIII belonged, was one of the most illustrious of the capital). The pope, however, did not give up on his intention and also ordered another intervention: the construction of two bell towers on the domesoon renamed “donkey ears” by the Romans.

Depiction from 1836, when the bell towers were still there

The Unification of Italy and the Savoy tombs at the Pantheon

After Italian unification, the State acquired ownership of the building and in 1878 chose it as a place of burial of Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy. Five years later the minister of public education, Guido Baccelli, ordered some very important interventions: he had the bell towers demolished, the inscription on the frieze restored and the surrounding buildings demolished. The Pantheon thus took on a similar appearance to the current one. In the following years, the building hosted the burials of other members of the House of Savoy, including Umberto I, king of Italy from 1878 to 1900.

The tomb of Vittorio Emanuele II (credit Rapallo80)

Mass tourism and paid entry

Today the Pantheon is both a monument and a place of worship in which masses are regularly celebrated, and is jointly administered by the Ministry of Culture and the Diocese of Rome. In recent years the building has suffered all the effects, positive and negative, of mass tourism. The fact of being in the center of Rome and the free entry made it so the most visited Italian historical-artistic site in Italy. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, it welcomed around nine million visitors, surpassing the Colosseum (for a fee), which stopped at around 7,500,000.

From July 2023, however, also at the Pantheon you pay for the ticket (5 €). Visits are still very numerous, but they do not reach previous levels: in August 2023, for example, the building welcomed 279,309 visitors. The Pantheon has so lost the lead of the most visited Italian historical-artistic site.