Standing tall over Rome’s city center for nearly 2,000 years, the Pantheon is one of the city’s most iconic structures — and the best-preserved Roman monument in the world! Still as impressive today as it must have been then, seven million people visit the Pantheon annually. In fact, when Michelangelo, who was not a man easily impressed, first saw this jaw-dropping monument, he remarked that it looked more like the work of angels rather than that of humans.
But there is a lot more to the Eternal City’s coolest building than its postcard-worthy perfection! Following are some interesting facts about this incredible landmark that hopefully will inspire you to see it for yourself.
- The word ‘pantheon’ is a Greek word meaning “honor all gods”.
- The Pantheon used to be covered in bronze! Tragically, the bronze decoration was pillaged over the centuries for use elsewhere. As you may know, bronze is a metal used for both art and war. Accordingly, in 1631, Pope Urban VIII (born Maffeo Barberini) famously and controversially stripped the bronze from the inside of the portico to make canons for Castel Sant’Angelo, giving rise to the saying “what the barbarians didn’t do, the Barberini did”.
- Famous for its hole at the top, or the oculus, the Pantheon’s most fascinating part is its giant dome. For 1300 years, the dome was the largest in the world and still today remains the largest unsupported dome in the world! The diameter of the dome is 142 feet (by comparison, the United States Capitol dome is 96 feet) and the rotunda of the Pantheon is a perfect hemisphere as the distance from the floor to the top of the dome is exactly equal to its diameter.
- Speaking of the oculus, it is the only source of light for the Pantheon and is about 29 feet in diameter. During the day, the light coming through the oculus moves around the inside of the Pantheon in a reverse sundial effect.
- Brought all the way from Egypt, the 16 massive Corinthian columns supporting the Pantheon’s portico weigh 60 tons EACH! Floated by barge down the Nile River, the columns stand 39 feet tall and are five feet in diameter.
- The double doors of the Pantheon are 21 feet high!
- The original Pantheon burned down! Built by Roman statesman and architect Marcus Vispanius Agrippa between 27-25 AD, the first Pantheon was destroyed by a fire in 80 AD. A second Pantheon was built by Emperor Domitian, but it, too, was destroyed in the year 110 AD. Ravaged by fire, it was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.
- The original Pantheon actually faced south instead of north, its current position.
- The columns of the Pantheon support a triangle pediment with the inscription M•AGRIPPA•L•F•COS•TERTIVM•FECIT, which means “built by Marcos Agrippa in his third consulate.” It is the only remnant from the original temple built by Agrippa and it is believed that Hadrian left it as a gesture to his predecessor when he rebuilt the Pantheon.
- The Pantheon serves as a mausoleum for the members of Italy’s short-lived monarchy, as well as other illustrious figures, including Raphael and his long-suffering fiancée Maria Bibbiena.
- Originally a pagan temple, the Pantheon was transformed into a church in 609, thereby saving it from destruction during the Middle Ages. Today, it is a church dedicated to St. Mary of the Martyrs. In fact, to consecrate the church, the Pope Boniface IV is said to have brought 28 carloads of bones of martyrs from the Roman catacombs and buried them beneath the floor. Nonetheless, it is still referred to as the Pantheon by most.
Ready to book your trip to the Eternal City? Give me a call at (703) 975-1747. I know Rome!