When we visited Rome in 2008, there was so much to see and do that time got away from us. I realized that if I wasn't careful, I would miss seeing the Pantheon AGAIN! So we adjusted our schedule a bit and managed to take a late afternoon trip to see a truly wondrous building. The history of the Pantheon is pretty amazing. The building was first constructed by Marcus Agrippa, as it shows on the face, in 27 AD. Agrippa was a general in the Roman Army, who had been victorious in the Battle of Actium in 31 AD and dedicated the Pantheon during his third consulship. The original Pantheon was destroyed in a fire that engulfed a number of buildings in 80 AD. Emperor Hadrian is credited with rebuilding the structure in 128 AD. He ordered solid 40 foot granite columns for the front part of the building from Egypt, which are five feet in diameter and weigh about 60 tons each. The inscription on the face of the building reads M AGRIPPA L F COS TERTIVM FECIT which means "Made by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, in his third consulship."
The dome is made of concrete and was cast in an ingenious way. At the base of the building, the walls are about 23 feet thick. They are required to bear the weight of the dome and provide stability. As the dome gets higher, it gets slightly thinner and the concrete mixture is changed to lighter and lighter materials. The Oculus at the top of the dome is about thirty feet across and is the only source of light. The Roman engineers and architects who designed and built the Pantheon's immense dome accomplished a feat not duplicated after that for many hundreds of years.
The Pantheon was the inspiration for Michelangelo's famous dome at Saint Peter's and the Duomo in Florence. After taking some pictures of the outside of the Pantheon, we went inside. I have to say that I was bowled over by the magnificence of the building. It was so much better than I had even imagined! Even with all of the reading I had done and the pictures I had looked at, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The inside is just breathtaking!! My goal is to explore each of the niches, tombs and altars. Taking the audio tour is recommended. The audio tour comes with a brochure that helps you locate everything. I spent about an hour wandering around and listening to the audio presentation. It really helped me to understand what I was looking at. If you go to ricksteves.com, you can download a podcast for the Pantheon and other sights in Rome. The interior of the building is still used as a church and there are signs telling you to show respect for the church and the tradition. More than once, I observed people being told to be more quiet, or to cover their shoulders or remove their hats. Some kids were lying on the floor and looking up at the dome and they were asked to stand up. So, quiet respect for the incredible history of the Pantheon is the order of the day!
When we were ready to leave, I wanted to spend additional time looking at the outside of the Pantheon, so we ordered dinner at one of the many restaurants in the Piazza and enjoyed a very nice (if pricey) meal. As soon as it started to get dark, street performers began to set up and we enjoyed music and mime-type characters mocking and teasing people and chasing them around the Piazza. Good fun and especially nice with the Pantheon all lit up in the background. At the back of the square, away from the Pantheon is a McDonalds restaurant, tucked away between outdoor cafes. Some people use it as a cheaper option while in the area. The Pantheon is a MUST SEE when you go to Rome. I will return on my next trip to Rome to do additional research and get more pictures. Don't miss it. You'll carry the memory with you forever!