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The Pantheon

The mighty Pantheon – built in 27 B.C. – is the best preserved structure from the Roman era. In later centuries, the temple was used as a cemetery. 19th-century Italian kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I were buried here, as well as painter Raphael. Later the Pantheon was transformed into a church.

There are a series of bronze letters above the 8 pillars on the façade of the Pantheon: M AGRIPPA. L F. COSTERTIUM. FECIT, or ‘Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, three-time consul, built this’. In the year 80 A.D. Rome was struck by a terrible fire that destroyed numerous buildings, including the Pantheon. It was later rebuilt by order of Emperor Adrian. Every time the Pantheon was damaged by natural disasters, it was restored once again. That is why, 2,000 years later, the building is still in an incredible condition.

The inside of the Pantheon

Melted to build cannons

The one thing that didn’t survive the centuries, however, is the Pantheon’s bronze roof. Pope Urbanus VIII had the bronze melted to create a canopy for Peter’s grave in St. Peter’s Basilica and cannons for the Castel Sant'Angelo. The large domed roof of the Pantheon is a fascinating phenomenon and a real masterpiece. In later days architects wondered how it was possible that the dome of non-reinforced concrete didn’t collapse under its own weight.
The Pantheon dome
Sunlight pours in through the hole in the dome

Hole in the roof

It was only much later in 1434 that Italian architect Brunelleschi was able to design a similar dome for the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The secret of the Pantheon lies in its walls that gradually thin out towards the top. To reduce the weight, the architect added square recesses (cassettes). Finally there is a hole in the top to give the dome some room to move. So although sometimes it rains inside, sunlight is able to penetrate the Pantheon and light up its stunning interior.

Photo credits

  • The inside of the Pantheon: Luciano Mortula, 123rf