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.

Italy’s Atlantis–What Lies Beneath

Baia Sunken Nymphaeum (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer) Sodibaia)
Sunken Nymphaeum of Baiae (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer Sodibaia) off the Bay of Naples

Welcome to the ancient sunken city of Baiae (Parco Archeologico Sommerso di Baiae), just 30 minutes northwest of Naples.

Seneca called Baiae a “resort of vice,” while Ovid referred to it as a “favorable place for love-making.” Famous for its prestigious baths and thermal springs, the ancient city of Baiae was a fashionable bathing and recreation area of the rich and famous. But today, much of Baiae is underwater. Remains of Roman streets, Imperial Villas and tottering statues lie submerged in just a few feet of water. Sea life weave in among the ruins, the only live occupants of what used to be the summer playground of the emperors.

Bay of Naples
Bay of Naples

Parts of the ancient cities of Baia and Puteoli (Pozzuoli) became submerged during the 16th century when the ground sank and the sea level rose, known as bradyseism. Volcanic lava from underneath the ground found a way of escape, causing a drop in the elevation.

Today, hoary life-size statues tilt precariously on the sea floor, remains of ancient Roman roads lead nowhere, floors of black and white mosaic attest to a long forgotten villa, bits of ancient amphorae that once held an emperors wine are scattered across the ocean floor. The first century sunken Roman seaside resort of Baiae, built during the time of Emperor Claudius, remains today as a shrine for the fish that dart about its contours and crumpled columns.

Emperors Nero, Caligula, Hadrian and Gaius Julius Caesar once owned elegant summer villas in Baiae alongside the areas famous epicurean thermal baths. Cicero entertained them during Saturnalia feasts. Known as the ‘Italian Riviera’ of its time, the pleasurable coastal resort gives evidence of high living. Below the surface is an ancient Roman road hemmed in by taverns, leading up to Villa Protiro and its colonnaded entrance and rooms with mosaics. Claudius Nymphaeum still remains embellished by once-elegant statues now covered with algae.

Baia Mosaic Floor (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer Sodibaia)
Baiae Mosaic Floor (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer Sodibaia)

Submerged Baiae is flanked by Portus Julius, Rome’s most important fleet of the time. Commissioned into existence in 37 B.C. by the famous military leader and engineer Agrippa, remains of docks, cisterns and repair workshops are evident today.

This underwater city can be observed by glass-bottom boat or scuba as well as snorkeling from the town of Baia. Some of the water over the ruins are shallow, making snorkeling a great way to get up close and personal. As a Marine Protected Area, you are sure to notice various sea life that have taken up permanent residence in the sunken city. Notice the purple sea urchins and sleek little fish darting in and around the arches and statues.

Statue in Underwater Park of Baia-Still from Fabio
Statue in Underwater Park of Baiae- (Still from Fabio)

*Click on Related Links:

*Baia Protected Marine Area Info on Excursions

*The Underwater Park of Baia Info, Maps and Diving Sites/Excursions