It may not be as famous as the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica, but the Pantheon of Agrippa has a place among things to see in Rome in its own right. Not every day can one visit a Roman building that is almost 2,000 years old. And it is not just any Roman building, it is the best preserved in the city. A masterpiece of architecture.
Only the Romans could build a circular dome of a size like that of the Pantheon. A dome that, today, remains the largest in the world without reinforced concrete – with reinforced concrete only surpassed in the twentieth century. But, in addition to the architecture, there are other reasons to enter: royal tombs, statues, frescoes, marbles, mosaics … Get ready to hallucinate, one of the jewels of Rome awaits you.
A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE PANTHEON IN ROME
Although in Rome the walls are really old, few could count as many things as the Pantheon. Used continuously since its construction, it treasures history to fill several books. We better summarize it …
PANTHEON OF AGRIPPA OR ADRIANO?
Go ahead that, despite being known as the Pantheon of Agrippa … is not “yours.” It is true that Marco Agrippa ordered the construction of the first Pantheon in 27 BC to commemorate the battle of Actium. But it is also true that that first building burned to the ground in 80 AD Thirty years later, Domitian raised it again … for lightning to destroy it in 110.
The one who stands proudly in the Piazza Della Rotonda – the Romans know him as La Rotonda – was commanded by Emperor Hadrian between 118 and 125. Yes, that of the Adriana mole, today Castel Sant’Angelo. How much of the design is from the Adriano era and how much is the inspiration of the previous buildings? It is not known …
Why is it then known as Pantheon of Agrippa and not as Pantheon of Hadrian? Because Adriano already had his mole … No, just kidding. An inscription on the entrance –M.AGRIPPA.LFCOS.TERTIUM.FECIT– implied that it was Agrippa’s work. And so it was assumed until some excavations in the nineteenth century that discovered remains of an earlier temple. It was then that it was deduced that Adriano had placed the original inscription in his new temple.
FROM CONSECRATION TO THE PRESENT
It was in the year 608 when the temple of all the gods became, exclusively, that of the Virgin Mary – the current name is Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres -. Byzantine Emperor Phocas gave it to Pope Boniface IV and the pagan deities were over.
The discreet exterior aspect of the Pantheon is largely due to another Pope: Urban VIII. The bronze roof that covered the porch became canyons for Castel Sant’Angelo and material for Bernini’s canopy in St. Peter’s Basilica.
In addition to its function as a church, which still retains, it became a Royal Pantheon with the unification of Italy. Inside are the tombs of the first kings of the country. Before, the great Raphael was already resting.
WONDER OF ARCHITECTURE: THE DOME OF THE PANTHEON OF AGRIPPA AND ITS OCULUS
As I said, the Barberini took care that today, the outside of the Pantheon does not shine. But that does not take away grandiosity: the 16 Corinthian columns built with a single piece of Egyptian granite – one piece each column – 11.6 meters high or the two 7-ton doors make it clear.