The Roman Pantheon has represented the greatest expression of the glory of Rome for more than two thousand years. Where it stands was not chosen by chance, but is a legendary place in the city’s history. According to Roman legend, it is the place where the founder of Rome, Romulus, at his death was seized by an eagle and taken off into the skies with the Gods.
The name comes from two Greek words pan, “everything” and theon, “divine”. Originally, the Pantheon was a small temple dedicated to all Roman gods.
Built between 25 and 27 B.C. by the consul Agrippa, Prefect of the Emperor Augustus, the present building is the result of subsequent, heavy restructuring after several fires occurred. It was then rebuilt in its present shape by the Emperor Hadrian; under his reign, Rome reached its maximum splendour and the present structure is probably the fruit of his eclectic genius and exotic tastes. In fact, the Pantheon combines a clearly Roman, cylindrical structure with the splendid outer colonnade of Greek inspiration.
What is extraordinary about the Pantheon is not only its architecture or external beauty, but also the fact that it represents a true cultural revolution. In fact, it was the first temple dedicated to the twelve Gods and to the living Sovran built for the common people. In ancient times temples were forbidden places the penalty for entering was death, only vestals and priests were allowed access.
On entering the door we cross the pronaos with its imposing granite column forest. The space is a perfect sphere symbolizing the vault of heaven; the height of the dome is the same as its diameter creating perfect balance and unique harmony
The Pantheon has no windows and the only light penetrates from above streaming down like a river of inner light; towards midday, the rays coming through the Oculus are particularly intense and move according to the time of day. On a sunny day we can see a large disc of light playing over the vault and walls. The light striking in a zenith direction has a special mystical meaning and symbolizes a direct connection between the gods and men, The belief that the Oculus was built so that the rain could not get in is not true, when it rains, it also rains in the Pantheon; the floor is slightly convex so the water flows away thanks to an effective drainage system.
The outside of the cupola was entirely covered with gilded bronze panels laid in scales. However, in 655, the Oriental Emperor Constantine I had them taken away to be used as molten bronze. The sole exception are the ones surrounding the oculi which you can still observe today.
In the VII century, the Pantheon was turned into a church dedicated to Mary and the Martyrs, a fact that guaranteed, at least partially, its preservation. In the XVI century, Pope Urban VIII, from the princely Barberini family, decided to remove all the bronze covering from the pronaos ceiling and to use it for other purposes: one part was used to forge 80 canons for the papal fortress of Castle Sant’Angelo; the rest was used was used by Bernini to create the splendid baldacchino or canopy of St Peter’s which stand over the papal altar in the center of the basilica.
In 608 Pope Boniface IV had the remains of many martyrs removed from the Christian catacombs and placed in the Pantheon. Thereafter the temple was officially converted to Christianity and named Saint Maria ad Martyres. The Basilica is still a church, where Christian worship is celebrated daily.
The Pantheon is also a national Mausoleum; it is the resting place of the Italian Royal family and some great Renaissance artists including Raphael. one of the greatest architects of the Renaissance who requested it to be his place of eternal rest.
Michelangelo felt it was the work of angels, not men.
The Roman Pantheon is the most copied and imitated of all ancient works. It is the forerunner of several other famous buildings, such as that of the same name in Paris or Westminster Abbey.