Monday, September 27, 2010


"... The cupola [of the Pantheon] constructed of a hard but light-weight volcanic stone which seem still to share in the upward movement of flames, revealed the sky through a great hole at the center, showing alternately dark and blue. This temple, both open and mysteriously enclosed, was conceived as a solar quadrant. The hours would make their round on that caissoned ceiling, so carefully polished by Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold; rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below; prayers would rise like smoke towards that void where we place the gods. "
Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar

The light entering the Pantheon inspired Le Corbusier in 1911. This is where Tadao Ando decided he wanted to be an architect in 1965. Rem Koolhaas calls it the world's most beautiful building . The Pantheon, the most visionary and -fortunately- the best preserved Roman building, was originally built in 31 BC by the general and then mayor of Rome Agrippa, following a rectangular layout. This building was destroyed in 80 AD a fire.

Original Pantheon of Agrippa (in red) and the reconstruction by Hadrian

But it was Hadrian who rebuilt the Pantheon in 125 AD in the cylindrical shape we see today, and he had the gesture to put the original inscription in the facade "M•AGRIPPA•L•F•COS•TERTIUM•FECIT" (It was built by Marcos Agrippa in his third consulate).

Original inscription on the frontis of the Pantheon, made by Agrippa and replicated by Hadrian.

We know this because during the excavations it was discovered that all the bricks have the mark of Hadrian, not the one of Agrippa, as had been suspected for many years. Hadrian was passionate about architecture, almost an amateur architect and he designed the Pantheon together with Apollodorus of Damascus, a famous Greek architect of the time who unfortunately was executed by order of the Emperor, because of an argument about the design of the temple (fortunately this custom has not prevailed among architects and their clients nowadays).

Reconstruction of the Pantheon in Roman times.

The name of Pantheon comes from the Greek Pan Theon (Πάνθεον) which means "temple all the gods", and although the original name of the temple is unknown, it is assumed that was used for the worship of all the Roman deities.

The facade is composed of 16 slender columns made of Egyptian granite, supporting a Greek tympanum. The beams were covered in bronze.

The bronze covering the beams was removed by Pope Urban VIII

From here, people entered the circular area through two massive bronze doors of 7 m in height .
Section and plan of the Pantheon

The interior of the Pantheon is an impressive space due to its huge dome. With its 44 m in diameter was two times larger than any dome that had been built before. Its free space was also a unique design, as most of the temples at that time had the space populated by columns.

Panorama inside the Pantheon. Click on image to enlarge. Source Wikipedia

The entire structure is supported by 6 columns 9 m wide, but empty channels are embedded in order to help reduce its own weight, which were also used for maintenance.

In the dome itself five different types of cement were used, making it lighter as the structure gained height, reducing the charges by 80%. They used a mix of concrete with pozzolana (a volcanic sand which added resistance) and tufa (a limestone). The walls used solid concrete in the first level of tufa and brick in the second.

Another way to reduce the weight of the roof and at the same time increase its aesthetic quality were the perforations in the form of trapezoidal caisson, which were decorated in gold and bronze with floral motifs.

Construction process of the dome. Image courtesy of National Geopraphic

Within the walls, arches were arranged to address the charges to the columns while reducing the weight of the structure.

Internal arcs on the walls of the Pantheon

The light falls from the great 8.9 m in diameter central hole (oculus) in the top of the dome, emphasizing the curve of the roof through a play of light and shadow. Light travels 43 meters to symbolize the connection of heaven with the earthly world. The interior conveys a sense of grandeur and harmony.

The proportions of the building were carefully studied, the radius of the dome was the same as its height from the floor. "The scale and structure of the Pantheon are representative of the religious conception of the Romans, the abode of the gods, in which Augustus intends to centralize the wide variety of worship of Roman religion, and architecture is presented with a summary of heaven and earth, "As above is below, as below is above" ( Via VITRUM, C. Sánchez Mountain )

Geometric proportions of the Pantheon

The Pantheon was the first pagan temple to be transformed into a church, dedicated to St. Mary of the Martyrs (609), and therefore it was saved from being destroyed during the Middle Ages. The monument remained intact until the Pope Urban VIII Barberini removed the bronze from the tiles and beams to make cannon balls found in the Castel Sant Angelo and to build the badalquino in the Vatican, designed by Bernini .

It was also Bernini the one who included two towers on the facade of the Pantheon in the 17th century, popularly known as "donkey’s ears", that were eliminated in 1893.

The Pantheon in the late 19th century, with the towers added by Bernini

Originally, the space in front of the Pantheon was an enclosed area, in whose center an arch was located.

Later this area became an irregular space, the square of the Rotonda.

In 1711 an Egyptian obelisk was placed in this square, on top of the marble fountain designed in 1575 by Giacomo Della Porta , the greatest creator of fountains in Rome.

Since the Renaissance, the Pantheon has been used as a tomb for renowned personalities (hence in some countries the term pantheon is used as a synonymous of cemetery). Some of them are the painters Raphael and Caracci, the architect Peruzzi and King Victor Emmanuel II, among others .

The building was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1980

A group of people perched on the dome of the Pantheon



1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this historical information on the Pantheon. Truly my favorite building seen in my travels. I have been there many times but the most memorable was a day when it was raining. Raindrops falling through the oculus was a beautiful sight and one I'll never forget.