The Pantheon secrets: one of a kind monument where time seems to have stopped
The Pantheon, the symbol of Rome across centuries
In the very historical city centre in Rome, walking around Pigna neighbourhood, a few tens of metres from Campo de’ Fiori, Corso avenue and Venezia square, you can find the Pantheon, an absolutely extraordinary building. Across the time, unscathed after wars, revolutions, invasions and dark centuries; created to be the temple for the all Gods, nowadays is a Christian basilica, one of the most ancient and touching of the whole capital. It is situated in Rotonda square, near many bars and restaurants, where you can taste the great Roman food, admiring the timeless beauty. Despite of more than 2 millenniums since its built and its changes of employment, its structure is still more or less the same, respecting its original project. It is something so rare in a city like Rome, where many buildings, if unscathed after urban revolutions, have been completely modified to fit modern styles, during the ages.
The Pantheon origins
The Pantheon was commissioned in 27 BC, by the Roman consul Marco Vipsanio Agrippa, Augusto emperor son-in-law, as well as his trusted architect. Lucio Cocceio Aucto, Agrippa’s architect too, who realized also the Portus Iulius in Pozzuoli, one of the biggest imperial works, managed the creation of the Pantheon. It rose up in the middle of Campo Marzio, area that, at the time, was wider then now.
Unfortunately, the building Agrippa wanted fired in 80 AD, as it was restored by Domiziano, even if a lightning in 110 AD completely destroyed it. Adrian emperor, known to be a lover of monumental buildings, decided to rebuild it in 120 AD, without following the original project. The Agrippa’s temple, indeed, had a rectangular base, larger then longer. The base of the original building is 2.5 metres under the current building, so, unfortunately, you can’t admire it. Its underground is made of tunnels in the rocks, where there are also some Christian catacombs.
It is interesting to know that Agrippa’s Pantheon was south-oriented, opposite Adrian’s, and in front of its entrance there was a 21 metres long pronaos. It is said the temple was a private one, so forbidden to the res pubblica. If you read some quotations of the Naturalis Historia by Plinio the Elder, who had the honour of visiting Agrippa’s Pantheon, you can understand how this architectural masterpiece originally was, where probably there were Siracusa bronze capitals. The only one part you can see of Agrippa’s building is the inscription, because Adrian emperor decided to put it in the pronaos, to be grateful to the creator of the first building.
The pronaos of Adrian’s Pantheon
Go up the few steps from the square to the entrance: you will be in the great pronaos, the 16 columns granite arcade, divided by other 8 columns, in lines of 2, creating 3 naves corresponding to the temple entrances. From there, you can perceive the monument greatness and majesty: the pronaos marble floors, characterized by geometrical circles and squares, are the same Adrian emperor asked for in 120 AC and it seems to be impossible they are still there nowadays, perfectly unscathed, despite of everything happened in time. There is just one cons: over the years, the original travertine steps have been regularly covered by layers of concrete and bitumen, because of works on the square. It is a pity, cause the Pantheon would still have had its majestic monumentality nowadays, if it was high as it originally was.
From the pronaos to the cell, throughout the avant-corps
In his project, Adrian emperor planned an avant-corps between the cell, the temple holy place, and the pronaos. Just after the pronaos entrance, you get in a great location made of bricks, sustained by two enormous columns and, after the door, you are in front of the very nut of this monument: the cell. That’s the famous Pantheon rotunda, maybe the most famous of its elements, and if you look up, you know why. The dome is an extraordinary architectural element: it is made of just one aisle with a more than 43 metres diameter. Decorations are on 5 orders of 28 ceiling coffers: to give a deeper effect and offer the perspective illusion, they are smaller as they get to the vertex, the oculus, giving the effect the dome is higher and wider than it actually is.
The oculus is open, with no protections as it originally was, but even if it rains and you are inside the temple, you will not get wet at all. Do you know why? Roman people were very experts in Physics, so they realized the dome taking advantage of the ascensional flows get generated inside of it and that minimize the water drops, so that people can’t perceive them. Moreover, along the sides and in the middle of the rotunda there are some little holes that prevent from puddles creation.
You will probably be curious to know something when you will admire the dome: how can it resist, being made of just one aisle? Augusto’s architects and engineers projected everything and the dome was built lightening it going towards the oculus: concrete and parts of bricks in the base, then parts of tuff and, at the end around the oculus, a specific concrete melted with volcanic lava, characterized by a smaller molecular weight. It is a sort of armor just externally, where a wall surrounds a part of the dome, almost hiding it. The dome is so perfectly balanced and this is the very secret of its extraordinary resistance, one of a kind in the history.
The Pantheon survived many geophysical meteorological phenomena and it is the only one monument you can still admire as ancient people did, in Rome. Isn’t it great?
You will not be able to see it visiting it, but the maximum internal height in the cell, so the rotunda’s, is exactly the same of the dome diameter, as to demonstrate Roman people were very good in Math’s! And it is not enough: if you geometrically analyze it, you can see the cell is made of a cylinder with a semi-sphere on it, that is the dome. The height of the cylinder precisely corresponds to the dome ray.
Numerology and astronomy were very beloved by Romans: during the spring equinox, at midnight, the moon was exactly perpendicular to the oculus and on the 21st April, Rome Christmas, the sun enters the oculus and shines on the entrance.
The Pantheon legends
As the other Rome churches and ancient Rome buildings, the Pantheon is rich in real and surreal myths and legends, too.
The most famous is the Christian one, since the moment in which the Pantheon, being a pagan temple, moved into a holy Christian one, beginning to be the Basilica collegiate of Saint Mary ad Martyres. The consecration ceremony is one of the most solemn have ever been done, maybe because of the greatness and the importance of the place: during the celebration, 28 wagons (the perfect figure according to Roman tradition, same number of the dome ceiling coffers) discharged the martyrs bones collected by the first Christian catacombs. During this practice, the people saw 7 demons escaping from there, a recurring figure again, as the Gods whom the temple was consecrated to by Agrippa and Augusto were 7. The same devil, according to the legend, tried to escape meanwhile, hurting the dome by his horns and so making the oculus, originally covered by a golden pine: and do you remember where the Pantheon is situated? In Pigna neighbourhood, as pigna in Italian means pine.
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