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The Pantheon in Rome

Pantheon in Rome (Pantheon)

The Pantheon in Rome serves as a reminder of the might and power of the once reigning empire. This temple was considered one of the most monumental in the city: pagans prayed here until the 7th century, and Christians after that. Now the Pantheon is included in the list of the main sights of Rome. It is the only sanctuary in the world that has survived to this day in almost pristine condition.

Video: The Pantheon in Rome

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History of the Pantheon

The initiative to erect the main temple of the Roman Empire belonged to the commander Marcus Agrippa. The statesman launched a large-scale construction campaign after the defeat of Cleopatra and Antony’s fleet in the battle of Cape Actium in 31 B.C. According to the commander’s plan, the Pantheon was to become part of the architectural complex on the Field of Mars. As legend has it, the temple was erected on the very spot from where Romulus, one of the founders of Rome, ascended to heaven.

The Roman Pantheon in 1836

In addition to the temple, the complex included the Thermae of Agrippa and the Basilica of Neptune.

Historians believe: both the Pantheon and the basilica were the private property of the commander and, unlike public temples, were closed to ordinary people.

In the past, it was believed that the Pantheon had traveled a long way from Roman times to the present day and still retained its original appearance. The reason for this misconception was the embossed inscription that adorns the facade today.

In Latin, it means: “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, thrice elected consul, did this.” Archaeological excavations have disproved this theory: thus, the Pantheon building in Rome, with the exception of the facade, was completely destroyed, and then – reconstructed according to the former drawings.

Opposite the Pantheon in the Rotunda Square there is a fountain created in 1711, its composition is based on an Egyptian obelisk found on the site where the temple of Isis was located in ancient times.

Pliny the Elder described the temple of Agrippa in his Natural History. Mentioned are the capitals of columns made of Syracusan bronze, the figure of Diogenes of Athens surrounded by caryatids, statues of the gods, and the pearl of Cleopatra cut in half – a worthy decoration for the ears of Venus. A fire in the year 80 took away the grandeur of the Roman temple and nearby buildings. The sanctuary was rebuilt by Domitian, but 30 years later the Pantheon suffered the same fate.

Hadrian, who was proclaimed ruler of the Roman Empire twice, undertook the reconstruction of the temple. Unfortunately, it is not known exactly how much the emperor’s architects contributed to the reconstruction of the Pantheon. Only the fact that Hadrian did not immortalize his name, having recreated only the former “signature” of Marcus Agrippa is reliable. Emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla did not follow the example of their predecessor. Having partially reconstructed the Pantheon in 202, the Roman rulers marked the fact with an inscription on the temple’s architrave.

The Middle Ages were a turning point for the fate of the sanctuary. In 609, the Byzantine Emperor entrusted the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV. In the same year, the shrine was consecrated in honor of St. Mary and the Martyrs, thus making it Christian. Thanks to this ceremony, the Pantheon escaped the fate of being forgotten or destroyed by opponents of paganism. During the Renaissance, the temple became a tomb for famous personalities of the time.

Unfortunately, the Roman Pantheon lost many of its decorative elements. The place of two carved columns was taken by medieval buildings. At the beginning of the XVII century Urban VII dismantled the bronze decorations of the ceiling and erected two towers on the sides of the dome, disparagingly nicknamed “donkey ears” (they were demolished in the XIX century.).

Another significant loss were the sculptures that adorned the pediment of the temple on both sides of the inscription Agrippa. The interior has largely survived, though not without restoration.

The Pantheon in Rome is now used as a Catholic church. Masses are held here on Sundays and holidays. Sometimes the dome of the temple becomes an unwitting witness to marriage ceremonies.

Architecture of the Pantheon

Rome’s main sanctuary is built in the form of a rotunda and a portico leading to it.


View of the Pantheon Portico. The photo clearly shows two niches in the walls where the statues used to be located

In ancient times, the pediment of the portico was decorated with an impressive sculpture, probably made of gilded bronze. The location of the holes in which the statue was mounted allows us to judge about its appearance. Presumably, the sculpture was an imperial eagle with ribbons that stretched to the corners of the pediment.

Empty niches for statues are visible in the walls behind the portico. It is possible that earlier there were sculptures of Marcus Agrippa, Octavian Augustus and Julius Caesar.

Another possible option is statues of the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Minerva, Juno) or other ancient Roman gods. The massive bronze doors leading to the interior of the temple did not originally belong to the Pantheon. They were installed around the 15th century.

The first images of the Roman Pantheon show a flight of stairs leading to the entrance of the temple. Over time, an embankment formed near the building and a separate staircase was no longer needed.


The concrete and brick rotunda of the sanctuary is covered by a hemisphere-shaped dome. Its lower tiers are made of a heavier material than the upper ones: the latter include pumice. Inside, small chambers are designed to reduce the weight of the roof. Perhaps a similar role was assigned to the oculus, an opening in the center of the hemisphere 9 m in diameter. Here the mass of the vault is considerably less than at the base.

Through the oculus light penetrates into the temple room. The Eye of the Pantheon does not prevent precipitation, but thanks to the drainage system and a small angle of inclination of the floor (about 30°) rainwater is collected in special recesses.

There is an amazing legend connected with the famous dome of the temple. Thus, its ideal outlines and sunlight penetrating into the “vent” of the oculus inspired N. Copernicus to finally formulate the heliocentric theory.

There are niches in the walls of the room where statues of gods whose names corresponded with the 7 planets of antiquity: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon and the Sun. Penetrating through oculus, rays of the sun in turn fell on each of sculptures, thus transforming the Roman Pantheon in some kind of observatory.

The Roman temple still holds the record for the world’s most monumental unreinforced concrete dome.

Interior of the Pantheon in Rome

Inside the Pantheon

In the Pantheon there is something called Pronaos – a rectangular room located in the front part of the sanctuary that leads to the building. Above the entrance is noticeable semicircular depression – tympanum, – limited by a lintel and an arch. In ancient times there was a sculpture here – “Battle of gods and titans”, but unfortunately it has not survived.

The temple greets tourists with a huge cylindrical-shaped room. On both sides, the Roman Pantheon branches into two naves (except for the central part of the room). There are no windows. The space is visually divided into three tiers (floors), smoothly tapering to the upper one. The surface of the dome is decorated with caissons – recessed panels – forming 5 rows of 28 pieces. Probably, these decorative elements had a certain meaning: lunar, geometric or numerical.

Since the dome of the Pantheon in Rome symbolized the sky, the caissons could well have been used to place decorations in them – for example, bronze stars, as historians believe. In addition to their decorative role, these panels “unload” the overall composition, making the roof lighter both visually and technically.

The interior is dominated by geometric figures: rectangles, squares and circles. They are mostly embodied in the marble floor of the Pantheon: “chess squares” alternate with (presumably) omphalias – purple circles. The latter are usually reserved for emperors and priests, but whether this was relevant for the Roman temple of all gods is unknown.


In the walls of the sanctuary found their final resting place outstanding minds, rulers and even saints of Italy. Among the first are figures of art: violinist Arcangelo Corelli, sculptor Flaminio Vacca, architect Baldassare Peruzzi, as well as painters Giovanni da Udine, Taddeo Zuccaro, Annibale Carracci, Perino del Vaga. A special place is given to the sarcophagus of Raphael Santi, who was made a saint, and his wife Maria Bibbiena.

The Pantheon in Rimetal is also the tomb of some august persons. King Victor Emmanuel II, his son Umberto I and his wife Margherita are buried here. The royals are guarded by volunteers from the National Institute of Honor Guard, established in the second half of the XIX century.

The Pantheon in Numbers

There are many amazing facts associated with this sanctuary that strike the imagination of tourists:

  • Artists in the square in front of the Pantheon

    Two periods of neglect are known in the history of the Roman Pantheon: for 400 and 900 years. Everything that happened to the temple during this time is a mystery behind seven seals. Perhaps the Pantheon underwent more extensive rebuilding, otherwise it would not have survived in such good condition.

  • The dome around the Pantheon Eye is 1.2 meters thick, although it appears much smaller when viewed from below.
  • The height of the room and the diameter of its vault are equal: 43,3 м. This gives the structure a remarkable harmony.
  • After the reorganization of the pagan sanctuary into a Christian temple, Pope Boniface IV ordered the bones of the saints from the catacombs of Rome to be transported to the Pantheon. According to reports, they barely fit into 28 wagons.
  • The portico is supported by 16 marble columns. Each weighs about 60 tons, is 1.5 meters in diameter and almost 12 meters high.
  • The walls of the building are 6 meters thick. Historians believe that the Pantheon in Rome may have been used as a defensive fortress during the riots and rebellions of the Middle Ages.
  • In 609 the Pantheon became the first pagan temple consecrated according to Christian canons. Hence arises more than one legitimate question. Who in ancient times kept statistics of pagan sanctuaries? How has it reached our days? What were the other temples like?
  • The obelisk of Ramses II, placed in front of the Pantheon, is not the only one in the city. There are a total of 13 Egyptian obelisks placed in Rome, testifying to the Popes’ unusual love for the subject of the Land of the Pharaohs.

The Roman Pantheon is attractive not only for its history and architecture. Looking at the majestic structure more than 2 thousand years old, you can’t help but respect the architects of those times, who created the main masterpiece of Rome. © “” copying of materials is prohibited

Practical information

The Pantheon in Rome is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 19:30, Sunday from 9:00 to 18:00. On holidays, the temple closes at 13:00; it is not open on January 1, May 1 and December 25. Visiting the Pantheon is free of charge, so everyone can admire this marvelous monument of Roman architecture. This temple is definitely worth a visit.

How to Get to the Pantheon

The Roman Pantheon adorns the Piazza della Rotonda with its majestic appearance. Use public transportation to reach this place:

  • Streetcar – no. 8 (stop Argentina);
  • Bus – nos. 30, 40, 62, 64, 81, 87 and 492 (stop Argentina);
  • Metro line A (Barberini station).