The impressive Pantheon – originally built in 27 BC – is the best preserved structure from the Roman era. In later centuries it served as a burial site, including for the 19th century Italian monarchs Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I, as well as for the renowned painter Raphael. Nowadays, the Pantheon is used as a church.
Above the eight pillars on the facade, bronze letters spell out the legend M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT, which means ‘Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, third-time consul, built this’. In 80 AD there was a terrible fire in Rome, which also destroyed the Pantheon. Thankfully it was rebuilt between 118 and 125 AD by order of Emperor Hadrian. From then on the Pantheon was restored whenever natural disaster struck, which is why it is still in such good condition some 2000 years later.
Only the bronze roof did not make it through the centuries. Pope Urban VIII had the bronze melted into a baldachin for St. Peter’s grave in the St. Peter’s Basilica and canons for the nearby Castel’ Sant’Angelo. The large dome of the Pantheon is a fascinating phenomenon and a true masterpiece. For many centuries, architects wondered how it was possible for the dome to carry its own weight.
It wasn’t until 1434 that the Italian architect Brunelleschi succeeded in making a similar done for the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. It turned out that the secret of the Pantheon was in the increasingly thinner walls toward the top of the dome. Additionally, the dome incorporated square recesses (cassettes) to save weight. Finally, to create some flexibility, the dome has a hole on top. As a result both sun and rain manage to find their way inside the Pantheon.
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