For this post, I chose one of my favorite buildings in the world…the Pantheon. When I first arrived in Rome, I desperately wanted to start sight-seeing, but my husband was tired from not sleeping on the flight and asked that I pick just one place to discover before he took a nap. Out of all the amazing sites that Rome has to offer, I chose the Pantheon, because I was intrigued by it after reading Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons where the main character, Robert Langdon, deduced that “Santi’s earthly tomb with demon’s hole” is the Pantheon. Turns out that there are two buildings to fit that description, but I don’t want to spoil the book for others. I find that well-researched novels can help a lot when exploring a new city and get me excited for the visit.
I had never been to Rome before and had little idea where the Pantheon was, but started out walking with a sense of confidence that I would find it or get thoroughly lost and enjoy that too. As we traversed the cobblestone streets, I drank in my surroundings amazed at the millennia of history unfolding before my eyes. I wove down one street and another. Eventually, I found a sign that said “Il Pantheon.” I was on the right track. We got sidetracked at the Trevi Fountain and the Column of Marcus Aurelius, but carried on. After some time walking, hubby started to question if I knew where I was going. I had no map, but I let my intuition guide me (along with any signs that I saw with an arrow pointing to Il Pantheon). He asked again where it was and I told him “right around the corner.” Lo and behold, I was right. There it stood in all its grandeur!
Sidenote: we later accessed a map and found that I had walked over two miles straight toward it. Queue music from Twilight Zone.
The Pantheon is an ancient temple dedicated to all the gods of Rome—pantheon meaning every divinity. Originally commissioned by Marcus Agrippa, it was finished around 27 B.C. on his property; that structure burned in 80 A.D. and the present Pantheon was built on its ruins. The current iteration was finished around 125 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. There is scholarly dispute, however, over who began its rebuilding. Hadrian honored Marcus Agrippa through a dedicatory inscription over its portico. In 609 A.D., the Pantheon was converted to a Christian church when Byzantine Emperor Phocus gave the building to Pope Boniface IV.
Walking up to it, I was first struck by the colonnade. The columns are immense and beautiful—they have stood the test of time. I immediately hugged one, much as you would an old friend.
The columns lead to enormous doors that let you know that you are entering a place of grandeur and magnificence. The interior is a study of the beauty of marble with sculptures, paintings, and reliefs adorning its walls. Since the Renaissance, the Pantheon has been used as a tomb with painter Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio) buried there. Royalty also have their eternal resting place under its dome.
The interior walls are stunning enough, but then, you look up! The dome–that architectural marvel–so awe-inspiring. It opens to the sky to let sun shine in or rain mist visitors. I immediately lay down on a pew to stare directly up into it. I lost my breath thinking about the millions of people throughout the millennia (or the previous year) who had looked through the same hole and connected with the universe.
What I find so amazing about historical sites and objects is their ability to connect the past to the present. When traveling to a historic site, I am conscious of the fact that I am experiencing something that people have experienced throughout the ages. The builders took care to make the Pantheon a place of splendor. They wanted it to evoke awe. The Pantheon’s dome is replicated in countless other buildings across the globe. Brunelleschi used it as inspiration for the Duomo in Florence. The U.S. Capitol building pays tribute to it.
The Pantheon represents our past and our future; it unites us as a people–and that is why I love it.I highly recommend asking a Pantheon guide to show you around its amazing interior. There are many interesting aspects that can be overlooked without someone to point them out, since the dome draws your eyes up and it’s easy to miss some of the eye-level or ground-level features.
Note bene: The Pantheon is located in the Piazza della Rotunda, Roma, Italy. As the building still operates as a church, masses are held there and apparel should be conservative.