|First glimpse of the Pantheon.|
The Pantheon is a magnificent ancient temple - later converted into the church of
Santa Maria ad Martyres. Dating from 125 AD, this is the most complete ancient building
in Rome and one of the city's most spectacular sights. Until the 20th century, the Pantheon
was the largest concrete structure in the world. Michelangelo studied its great dome before
starting work on the dome of St Peter's Basilica. The Pantheon was dedicated to pan theos,
"all the gods." When it became a church, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the
martyrs. The Pantheon is the burial place of several important Italians (including the artist Raphael).
The Pantheon was maintained and restored by the emperors Septimus Severus (193-211) and Caracalla (211-17). During its two centuries as a functioning temple, statues of gods filled the niches. Animals were sacrificed and burned in the center; the smoke escaped through the only means of light, the oculus.
After Christianity replaced paganism in Rome, the Pantheon was abandoned for a time. Public pagan worship was prohibited in 346 and most pagan temples were closed in 356. Fortunately, a decree of 408 ordered that temples were to be put to new use; thus some have been preserved and were used as secular buildings.
The Pantheon remained unused until the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-10) gave it to Pope Boniface IV (608-15). In 609 AD, the Pantheon was consecrated as a Christian church. It was the first pagan temple in Rome to be Christianized, although the practice had been common in the East since the 4th century. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs, thus continuing the tradition of a "catch-all" place of worship.
In 667, the Pantheon was stripped of its golden roof tiles and looted of anything of value, but the building was partially restored by Pope Benedict II (684-85). It was subsequently robbed and restored again several times.
In the 16th century, Michelangelo came to the Pantheon to study its dome before he began work on the dome of St. Peter's (whose dome is 2 feet smaller), and the Pantheon's roof was stripped of bronze for use in Bernini's baldacchino in St. Peter's. In 1563, the bronze doors were restored.
The Pantheon is widely praised for its feats of architecture and concept of space. At 43m (142 ft) wide and 43m (142 ft) high, it is a perfect sphere resting in a cylinder.
The portico (porch) is made of 16 monolithic Corinthian columns topped by a pediment. The inscription M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIUM·FECIT means: "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, during his third consulate, built this."
The bronze doors leading into the building (which are original and were once covered in gold) weigh 20 tons each. The walls of the Pantheon are 7.5m (25 ft.) thick.
The oculus, the only source of natural light in the Pantheon, is a round opening in the center of the dome. It is 27 feet in diameter and open to the sky (the floor is gently sloped to allow for runoff of rainwater).
The main altar of the church is opposite the entrance, and the original 7th-century icon of the Madonna and Child can be seen above it.
Some 2nd-century decoration from the temple can be seen in the niche just to the right of the apse. The niche just to the right of the entrance carries a fresco of the Annunciation by Melozzo da Forli (15th century).
Monumental tombs are set into the walls of Pantheon, including that of the artist Raphael (on the left side as you enter). Vittorio Emanuele II, first king of a unified Italy, and his successor, Umberto I, are interred here as well.