The Pantheon of Rome is an enigmatic construction. Its solid “looks” almost gives away its true age, yet the real number is always surprising. This monument of Ancient Roman civilization stands right in this place since approximately 125 AD, which makes it an outstanding, incomparable and one of a kind construction that not only survived through eighteen centuries, but remained intact.
The latter fact is even more surprising if we take into account that the Pantheon is a building with literally a hole inside its spherical roof, which allows rains to get into the building freely. Moreover, it was plundered so many times that it is quite puzzling to find it still standing. Just imagine the Pantheon with bronze portico and roof, marble walls, elegant statues it once had - it is completely different today from what it looked like. But even stripped and naked as it is this building is still an example of an architectural marvel, which inspired architects all around the world to copy it in thousands of variations across the globe.
In fact, the Pantheon is the most cited building in architecture in the whole history. It has been referred to thousands of times during renaissance, neoclassicism and even postmodernism in many countries around the world. Just some famous buildings that were inspired by the Pantheon: il Duomo by Brunelleschi in Florence, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica by Michelangelo in the Vatican, the Pantheon in Paris, the United States Capitol in Washington and numerous other architectural objects.
The Pantheon is known for its spectacular dome with an uncovered hole in the middle of its hemispherical ceiling. This dome is so intricately built that no one among those who dared could compare with it whether in shape, size or materials used. Firstly, the dome was made from concrete. Secondly, it is completely unreinforced. These two facts don’t go well together, because concrete is an excessively heavy material for ceilings of such shape and size and therefore needs support. It seems that a gigantic hemisphere was put on the building, but how? From an architectural point of view it is impossible. And when we talk about impossible things we also take into account that the Pantheon was built almost 2000 years ago.
This “eye” in the dome - the oculus - is the only source of light inside the building that projects a thick ray of light, which “travels” around the walls of the building during the day. Interestingly, it stops on the entrance door and lights it up at 12:00 on April, 21. Needless to say that the purpose of the oculus remains another big mystery of the Pantheon.
The oculus in the dome also allows rain to fall down freely, but floods have never changed a thing or been of any problem to the construction. First of all, because of the drainage system in the floor and inside the building that works perfectly well till today. Secondly, because of the design of the building and the secret material it was made of.
The mathematical, architectural and physical calculations behind the Pantheon are mesmerizing. When Michelangelo himself saw this building, he said that it was “built by angels, not by men.”
For our contemporaries the walls and the dome of the Pantheon seem to be executed in concrete, but how come that today’s technologies can’t produce such durable materials. Just to think of, the expiry date of modern cement is 600 years.
Many architectural monuments dated back to Ancient Rome (the Caracalla Baths and the Colosseum, for example) seem to have been done from concrete with the unknown formula. Unfortunately, it was completely lost in history.
The last but not the least question to be asked about this outstanding historical landmark is how a building aged almost 2000 years old can stay intact without any major reconstructions made during most of its existence. What’s for sure, the eternal Pantheon knows how to keep its secrets.
Since the 13th of May in 609 the Pantheon of Rome is called the Basilica Santa Maria ad Martyres. It welcomes Catholic pilgrims as well as visitors of every other confession. Masses and liturgies are held here every Saturday and Sunday as well as wedding celebrations. Two amazingly beautiful events happen here every year.
The day of Pentecost, which takes place on the 50th day after Easter, and is celebrated in the Pantheon with rain of rose petals. In Italian this celebration is called La pioggia di petali di rose.
Every year on April, 21 another spectacular thing happens in the Pantheon. The dazzling light from the oculus that travels all around the walls, the floor and the ceiling during the year stops right at the main entrance. Interestingly, since ancient times April, 21 was the day of the foundation of the city. On this day an emperor would enter the main door stepping out of light and looking god-like to the people who were looking at him.
While the history of many ruins in Rome is quite often documented very well, the history behind the Pantheon remains blurry. In case with the Pantheon we can only collect questions that stay unanswered. Let’s sum up what we don’t know about the Pantheon.
That way or another the Pantheon is a true gem and miracle of the Eternal City. Unlike other monuments of the past it has managed to have a particularly long life, keep its secrets bottled up and be useful for so many centuries. What’s for sure, we are very lucky to evidence this historical masterpiece that is a 100% must-see place for every visitor of Rome.
Address: Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Roma Rm, Italy. Metro: Barberini station, Line A. Landmarks in the vicinity: the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona, the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva
Official website: www.pantheonroma.com/home/
Working hours: Monday – Saturday: 8:30am – 7:30pm (last entry 7:15 pm), Sunday: 9am – 6pm (last entry 5:45 pm). Closed on the following days: May 1, December 1, January 1