Saturday, 14 January 2017

Rome 365 - Pantheon

The Pantheon is the best preserved of all the ancient Roman buildings and it is amazing to think that it has been in continuous use for over 2,000 years. It is high on the list of favourite sights for visitors to the city, with the oculus inspiring a special awe. In 2016 seven million tourists passed through the doors, making it Italy’s most visited monument.

The building we see today is the third on the site, the first built by Marcus Agrippa, as acknowledged by Emperor Hadrian who was responsible for rebuilding the Pantheon after the second temple was destroyed by fire.

Marcus Agrippa originally built this Temple to all Gods as part of an enormous layout of baths and public gardens. Huge remains of the baths can be seen on a nearby street.

The Corinthian columns of the porch are each cut from a single stone of grey and red granite, transported here from Egypt. The bases and capitals are white Greek marble. If you look closely at the colums you will see holes. These were cut into the columns to support the huts of the poultry market that existed here in the 14th century. The piazza outside with its Egyptian obelisk & Renaissance fountain was once a fish & vegetable market - the fountain was useful for keeping the fish fresh!

The columns were designed to hide the dome from view. Obscuring the dome provokes a sense of wonder as you walk in & see the perfect hemisphere inside. The diameter of the dome is exactly the same as the height of the building.

The construction of the dome took advantage of the most advanced building techniques of the time , including the clever use of concrete. Various mixes of concrete were used, the heaviest basalt mix at the bottom & the lighter volcanic ash mix at the top. It still remains the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

The central oculus is almost nine metres in diameter and is said to 'allow the sky to descend into the Pantheon so that prayer may freely rise'
It also acts as a sundial. Stand facing the entrance and the ray of light will tell you the time. If it is hitting the entrance then it is midday.

Originally the recesses inside the Pantheon would have held statutes of the gods including Mars and Venus. The latter was famous for her earrings, made by cutting in half the pearl that Cleopatra did not swallow when she bet Mark Anthony she could spend 10 million sesterces on a meal (she had drunk its twin dissolved in vinegar) 
The statues were replaced by tombs, including those of Raphael...

.......and the Italian monarchy

Queen Margherita is also buried here. Pizza Margherita was created in her honour.

I think the best approach to the Pantheon is to stumble upon it by accident as we did on our first visit to Rome in 2001. Whichever way you arrive that first glimpse still enthralls.

We were lucky enough to experience Pentecost at the Pantheon a couple of years ago. Well worth timing your trip to coincide with the rainfall of rose petals floating down from the oculus, symbolising the descent of the Holy Spirit, that occurs on this particular Sunday.

The rose petals gathered up after the service & subsequently dried, make a lovely souvenir of a very special moment spent in this extraordinary building.

A good tip before touring the Pantheon is to get a free app designed to help you make the most of your visit.

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