Rome’s Pantheon…Did You Know?

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Michelangelo described the famous Pantheon in Rome perfectly after seeing it for the first time in the early 1500’s when he said it was “an angelic and not a human design.” The architecture is mind-blowing and incredibly devised. Built by Emperor Hadrian in 120 AD, it is the best preserved ancient Roman monument as well as a testament to the ingenuity of the early Romans and their fascinating knowledge of mathematics, balance, and measures.

The Pantheon today is better known to most people as the film locations in the famous movies Roman Holiday and Angels and Demons. But the dome of the Pantheon is what the Renaissance masters Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, to name a few, studied and adopted architectural knowledge to build the Duomo of Florence and St. Peters Basilica.

I’ve listed some intriguing details below about the Pantheon that will deepen your appreciation of Roman technology.

  1. The Pantheon was the largest dome for 1300 years but is still the largest unsupported dome today.
  2. It was the first pagan temple transformed into a church named St. Mary of the Angels in the year 609 AD. This was a blessing in itself because as a result it was saved from destruction during the middle ages. Today it exists more as a tribute to history than a religious institution.
  3. The original marble floor still exists.
  4. The Pantheon is 142 ft. in diameter and the U.S. Capitol dome is 96 ft. in diameter. They are both in perfect proportion with the distance from the floor to the top of the dome exactly equal to the diameter.
  5. Sixteen massive Corinthian Columns brought from Egypt, most likely by barge, weigh sixty tons each and used to support the portico.
  6. Tombs including that of the famous Renaissance painter Raphael along with several Italian kings and poets are housed inside.

It wasn’t until I took Art History in college that I understood how the dome of the Pantheon could stand for almost 2,000 years without support. It was quite amazing to learn that the concrete used was thinner at the top than the bottom. Volcanic stone was used as the aggregate in the concrete near the oculus (opening at the top) whereas heavier granite was used as the aggregate nearer to the base. The bottom of the dome was made heavier using brickwork as a counterbalance. If you look up at the dome, you will see small indented rectangular designs called coffers used to decrease the weight. The oculus at the top not only lets in sunlight but also adds no weight.

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photo credit pxhere

Brilliant, wouldn’t you say? Have you been to the Pantheon in Rome? Whether you have or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

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Notice the inscription across the front of the Pantheon. It reads “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this.” Agrippa did build the former Pantheon in 27-25 BC., but it burned down. As a result, Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it into what we see today but left the inscription giving Agrippa the credit.

19 thoughts on “Rome’s Pantheon…Did You Know?

  • I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Pantheon and go inside, which is spectacular. A pity it had to be transformed into a Christian church and the original statues that were housed in the niches gone. I would have loved to have seen them in situ.

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  • My favourite architectural masterpiece! I never miss it when in Roma. On my bucket list is to visit on Pentecost Sunday one May, when i pompieri 🚒 romani drop thousands of rose petals into the Pantheon from the oculus. Can you imagine being showered in rose petals in the Pantheon? I’m smiling just thinking about it Ciao, Cristina

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    • So true, Bonnie. I find that I begin to see things in a different light, almost like I’ve never seen it before. Italy has that way of pulling us back, time and again, with a deep feeling that we have so much more to see:)

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  • Great pictures, love the structure, don’t love the crowds… I once visited the Pantheon with a college-educated Neapolitan who had been living in Rome for 30 years. He’s telling me all about it and then said that because of some miracle of engineering, even though there’s the hole on top, it doesn’t rain inside. Of course, I laughed. No, his elementary school teacher had told him that! I laughed again. He really believed it. I hated to bust his bubble, but we asked a guard and science proved to be stronger than miracles. I think he just wanted to believe…

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    • Karen, sorry for the late reply…yes, the crowds can be overwhelming! That is funny about the rain coming through the oculus. I remember standing under it when it was raining and feeling it sprinkle on me. It felt refreshing and dampened a bit of the floor which brought up a smell of ancientness to my senses.

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  • I’ve eaten at that very restaurant —and funny story—years ago, just following John Paul’s death, my dad took my son, myself, my aunt and step mother to Rome that summer.
    How she did it we don’t know but my stepmother tripped over the corner of the Pantheon.
    My aunt and I were out scouting places to eat while they were wandering around, eating gelato. She fell and my then 13-year-old son had to run to a Pharmacia in order to fetch supplies…we still laugh that she would “fall over the Pantheon” 🙂

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  • Great post and gorgeous pics as ever Susan! I’m currently doing an MA with the UK’s open uni and chose to write about the Pantheon last year which was fun! Research on it is amazing – did you know for example that chemical analysis had shown that the pozzolana that makes up the dome’s concrete came from Vesuvius? Sophisticated modelling has shown that the dome is actually cracked, which might explain its original gold coffering. The columns in the porch are actually wrongly sized. And somewhere there are stairs that I haven’t seen. And someone strangely decided to add belltowers during the Renaissance which were only removed in the late 19th Century. It’s certainly a beautiful building which takes your breath away at each and every visit. I would love to be there when it snows or during the shower of rose petals which I think happens at Pentecost – just magical!

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    • Wow, Marilyn! You learned a whole lot of neat things about the Pantheon. It’s been around long enough I can easily see how these things happened. A snowfall at the Pantheon would be otherworldly for sure! I agree, magical. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your knowledge. It’s all so fascinating!

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