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.

Armando al Pantheon ~Rome’s Old School Trattoria

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One of my very favorite places in Rome is the Pantheon with the small Piazza della Rotunda just to the south of it. Every trip to Rome is not complete without a visit to this glorious first century monument. There are several outdoor restaurants that line the piazza and offer decent food with great views. But the trattoria I love the most is Armando Al Pantheon which is just a stone’s throw from the Pantheon itself. Although it lacks outdoor dining, the small one room trattoria is as homey and comfortable as one could imagine.

Owner and chef Armando Gargioli bought the small building in 1961 and transformed it into his own family run restaurant. His expertise, which his son’s have learned and continue offer, is seasonal and traditional Roman cuisine.

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The morning I arrived, I waited outside the simple and unassuming front door for half an hour before the trattoria opened for lunch at 12:30 pm. A line had formed close behind me. After I was immediately seated, the small dining room filled quickly. There was no music playing which I found refreshing. I noticed businessmen that looked like government bureaucrats, possibly from the nearby senate and parliament along with locals and a few tourists like myself.

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The server was genuine and very helpful with the menu, which offered traditional cucina Romana along with some Roman Jewish classics such as endive and anchovies, and artichokes drizzled with olive oil. I decided on Spaghetti con Branzino, spaghetti with sea bass. The pasta was perfectly al dente, and the bits of white fish tender and flavorful. My glass of Frascati was crisp with citrus undertones, a perfect pairing with the pasta.

Armondo Fava bean Bruschetta

Delicious Fava Bean Bruschetta

Tiramisu

For dessert, I ordered the Tiramisu. Rich, creamy and unforgettable, it was one of the best I have ever tasted.

Armando al Pantheon is a great find in a touristy locale. There are no lunch reservations, although they do take reservations for dinner. For lunch, arrive early and wait by the front door. With only 30 seats at the most, it fills quickly.

So, have a glass of wine or coffee at an outside restaurant on the piazza to inhale the sights of the Pantheon. Afterwards, enjoy dinner at one of the best trattorie Rome has to offer.

Armando al Pantheon

Salita del Crescenzi 31, Rome
+30.06.688.03034
Open for lunch and dinner
Closed Saturday dinner, and all day Sunday.

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Why Rome, You Ask ~ Come See For Yourself

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Amazing Rome. There is no one like you….Sounds like the beginnings of a song. But Rome demands its place as the Eternal City with all of its multi dimensional aspects of life over thousands of years. She has an old yet elegant presence about her that is difficult to ignore. And for those who are willing to let her take them on a journey through the depths of her soul and afterward rise up again to meet Rome of today, you will be in for an unforgettable experience.

Follow along as I introduce you to some of my favorites…

Fine dining from the rooftop of the Hotel Raphael near the Pantheon is an intoxicating experience. The terrace is multi-level and the views of Rome from all around are magnificent. I love watching the sun set over the city as I drink a glass of wine and see how many monuments I can recognize.

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The Italians know how to make delicious food, which is not a surprise. I love pasta and the way it is served with a special touch. It is never smothered in sauce but instead embellished with a delicate herbed olive oil or light wine sauce. This pasta below had chunks of white sea bass that was tender, mild and disappeared in no time.

I must also give the Italians my hearty approval on good pours of wine in the glass. The house wines in Rome are always very good. Most are locally produced. Frascati, grown in vineyards around Rome, is a common white wine that is served in Roman restaurants.

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Desserts don’t take a backseat to the main dishes. This pistachio gelato was a work of art. As a city known for its outstanding architectural designs and centuries old famous fresco paintings, this should be no surprise.
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Sometimes it’s just fun to enjoy a simple gelato while walking the streets of Rome and taking in the sights. My quota is one, sometimes two gelati a day.DSC00297The old Jewish Ghetto is one of my favorite landmarks to explore. Outdoor cafes offer kosher food, some with recipes used centuries ago.
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Carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichokes) are a specialty in the Jewish Ghetto. Deep fried and served in a crispy layer, they are delicious. The outer leaves taste like potato chips. Battered and fried pumpkin flowers are also very popular and, unlike the Carciofi, they are tender and delicate.
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Markets at Campo dei Fiori are a lot of fun to shop. Produce is bright and freshly picked.
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Outdoor cafes are everywhere in Rome. It’s obvious that food and socializing are very important to the Italian lifestyle.
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Ask anyone where to find good coffee and they will direct you to Sant’Eustachio il caffe. There you will generally see a line of people waiting. Established in 1938, it is only steps away from the Pantheon. This is the only coffee in Rome roasted by wood and not fossil fuel. All of the coffee is roasted on the premise. I was fortunate and found an outdoor table to seat myself while I sipped my coffee.
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The Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero dei Protestanti) is in the Testaccio neighborhood. I found this place to be immensely interesting. It is very green and well-kept, with sculptures and statues over graves. Here is a famous one called the Angel of Grief, sculpted in 1894 by William Story to be the gravestone for the artist and his wife.
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Trastevere is Rome’s nightlife central. It comes alive with cafes and street music, vendors and whirligigs that light up the night sky. Delicious smells of food coming from eateries as I pass by mixed with the lively chatter of people enjoying time together brings a festive feel to it all. I love to linger here and experience the charming ambience of this ancient part of Rome.

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Fountains are everywhere, from the old famous ones in Piazza Navona to small expressions outside of buildings. This one caught my attention in passing. Water trickled down from underneath while turtles balance along the edge, encouraged by the men below.

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Walking the back streets of Rome can bring many delightful surprises. As I rounded a corner, this is what I saw. Someone had an amazing green thumb. I couldn’t begin to imaging the amount of work and attention that went into keeping it all so green and healthy.DSC01550
As I put these photos together, I began to feel that old familiar tug again. Of course, it is Rome demanding my presence once more. There is so much more to see, so much that you could never imagine, she whispers to me. Will I succumb? Probably….in time.

Magnificent Roman Skyline from the Hotel Raphael Rooftop

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La Terrazza Bramante, a garden restaurant on top of the Hotel Raphael provides panoramic views of the eternal city.

While enjoying a refreshing glass of Frascati wine at a small outdoor table near the Piazza Navona last September, I couldn’t help but notice the tall and lush Hotel Raphael across the street. The entire facade was covered with ivy and purple wisteria. As my eyes traveled from the front door entrance up the building to the top, I noticed some large umbrellas and wondered if it had a rooftop restaurant. I questioned my waiter about it and was told that it did. It was then I decided to enter the hotel and make my way to the top. I could only imagine the views of the city from this vantage point.

Golden lamplight spilled through the entrance toward the street as I entered the Raphael. The impeccably dressed gentleman at the front desk took a copy of my identification and told me how to reach the elevator.

La Terrazza Bramante, the rooftop garden restaurant, was more exotic than I imagined it would be. I had stepped off the elevator and into a multi-level terrace that offered elegant dining among tall fan palms.

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Large umbrellas provide shade for diners. This is what attracted me from the cafe across the street.
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A scattering of diners begin to arrive as the dinner hour approaches.

A handsome young waiter approached me and inquired if I would like a table. I accepted a menu from him and scanned the pages. A nice selection of gourmet organic, biodynamic vegetarian Mediterranean cuisine was on offer along with some of the best wines in Italy.

I wasn’t hungry for dinner yet, so I declined but asked if I could take a moment to enjoy the Roman skyline. He smiled and encouraged me to take my time.

The fading light over Rome inspires me to linger just a bit longer
The fading light over Rome inspires me to linger just a bit longer

The nearly 360 degree view of the eternal city at dusk was intoxicating. The restaurant faces the Bramante cloister in the church of Santa Maria della Pace. The terrace overlooks several architectural wonders of Rome, including the Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the National Monument of Victor Emanuel II.

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The dome of Santa Maria della Pace to the left and St. Peters Basilica in the center.
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St. Peters Basilica to the left and Victor Emanuel II on the right with the quadriga, or chariot of horses, on top
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The bell tower of the Church of St. Mary of the Soul, built in 1502.

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The building of the Hotel Raphael itself seems to have been around for hundreds of years. Its believed that a fresco in the Vatican Museum clearly shows the building already in existence in the sixteenth century city. Florentine developer Spartacus Vannoni remodeled the interior into The Raphael, a luxury hotel with two lower level floors, seven upper floors, a multi-level rooftop terrace and a restaurant in 1963.

The 5 star luxury hotel is also a veritable museum of sorts. Artwork in the form of paintings, sculptures, antiques and a collection of Picasso ceramics are on public display throughout the building. American architect Richard Meier designed two of the executive floors which are of a modern decor.

 

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Entrance to the Raphael

The ambience of the Hotel Raphael and La Terrazza Bramante rooftop restaurant left me with a yearning to return. In addition, the waitstaff were exceptionally friendly and cheerful. The hotel is nicely located and within walking distance to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Vatican.

 

Statuesque Villa Adriana Reveals Rome’s Sumptuous Past

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One of several caryatids, or Greek statues, that line the Canopus in Villa Adriana

When I pass statues from antiquity, whether in a museum or in the environment, my curiosity perks. Who were they? What were their names and how did they impact their world? Most were worshipped as mythical deities or emperors who were believed to have powers to effect an individual’s life. Whether their powers be good or bad, most everyone watched their step with all due respect.

Villa Adriana, or Hadrian’s Villa, is just 18 miles east of Rome on the edge of the Sabine Hills. While strolling through the villa, I was amazed at the huge complexity. A long row of statues that lined an oblong lake, called the Canopus, still held stately reflections on the rippling water below them. These ghostly images, like echos from the past, seemed to signify the depth of immortality that these caryatids were thought to possess. The passing centuries haven’t been kind as some are missing a head or an upraised arm, or even gone altogether leaving empty spots. But a glimpse of the stunning overall effect still lingers.

 

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Greek columns with Hermes in the center flanked by two Amazons. Alligator symbolizes the Nile River

Emperor Hadrian had the sumptuous villa built beginning around 117 AD as a ‘country home’ of sorts. He escaped the political rat race of Rome often to this hide-out that became a tranquil sanctuary for him and his friends. Glorious banquet rooms, luxurious bathing facilities, and his own floating island where he could isolate himself for a time are just a few of the amenities Villa Adriana had to offer.

Hadrian was a world traveler and architect. Spanish-born, he had a deep passion for the Greek culture and made attempts to replicate what he saw. The famous Pantheon and Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome are testaments to his grand architectural designs.

 

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Caryatids line the Canopus

The lake was completely surrounded by statues of various deities that likely supported a huge pergola over the water. It must have been a breathtaking effect to look upon this green canopy. It’s easy to imagine small gilt rowboats skimming the top of the waters, escorting their passengers to a sumptuous feast or a moonlight pleasure cruise. Sadly, very little is left of this glorious vision of the past. Much of it was plundered over the centuries by barbarians and the marble burned to make lime.

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Greek god Hermes stands in the center with helmet and shield. Although these statues are replicas of the original, they look impressive.

His villa was enormous and filled with copies of his favorite buildings from around the world. He spent the last ten years of his life here on his three hundred evocative acres. Villa Adriana expresses the lavishness and enormous power of ancient Rome.

Historians and archaeologists today believe that the Canopus represented a branch of the Nile River in Egypt. At one end was a shell shaped grotto with fountains dedicated to the Egyptian god Serapis whom the Romans worshipped. Summer banquets and nighttime parties around the Canopus were famous for imperial excess.

 

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A mere hint of what was

What remains of the temple of Serapis on one end can be partially seen to the left.

 

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Neptune reclines along the lake

 

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These old olive trees are huge! One of several around the Villa Adriana

The afternoon grew hot and I was ready to seek some shade after several hours of traipsing over ancient ruins. What once was a huge and undoubtedly elaborate complex is now just a shell of rubble. But for those with any imagination, it’s not hard to recreate the grandiosity of what once was the richest, most famous and stunning Roman villa in the world.