As the name Pantheon suggests, the original temple was dedicated to all gods. However, in the 7th century, the building was turned into a church and renamed Santa Maria ad Martyres. Many kings are buried here, as is the renaissance artist Raphael, who requested that the Pantheon be his final resting place. The graves are all marked with different statues.
Another imposing feature is the dome, which at 43.3 m in diameter is bigger than the one on Saint Peter’s Basilica. Look up, and you’ll notice there’s a hole in the centre that’s open to the elements. So when it rains outside, it rains inside, too!
Pantheon Rome A bit of history
‘Marcus Agrippa Luci filius consul tertium fecit’[Marco Agrippa, son of Lucio, three times consul, built this]
Every visitor to the Pantheon is greeted by this inscription. As it suggests, this impressive building was first commissioned by Marcus Agrippa in 27 B.C. That said, Agrippa’s Pantheon was not the one you see today. Although it was a similar size and had roughly the same footprint, the original Pantheon was damaged by a fire in 80 A.D.
Emperor Domitian restored the building, but in 110 A.D. another devastating fire destroyed it to such an extent that Emperor Hadrian had to completely rebuild it. In doing so, he chose not to use his own name on the inscription on the front façade, but instead retained the original dedication by Marcus Agrippa.
Hadrian’s Pantheon is the one still standing today. The name Pantheon comes from the Greek meaning ‘all gods’ (pan = all, theos = gods), because the original temple was dedicated to all gods, or at least several of them. There is documentary evidence referring to Mars, Venus and Divus Julius, but there may well be more. Divus Julius was the supreme god of the Roman state (alongside Jupiter) and none other than Julius Caesar himself, who was deified in 44 B.C. Marcus Agrippa is also thought to have created the Pantheon in honour of his father-in-law Augustus and his family.
In May 609, Pope Boniface IV converted the Pantheon into a Christian church dedicated to Mary and the Martyrs and renamed it Santa Maria ad Martyres. Despite the conversion, the Pantheon was looted many times during the Middle Ages and pillaged of its gilt-bronze roof tiles and ancient marble.
When Pope Urban VIII, a member of the influential Barberini family, removed the bronze coffers (sunken panels) from the inside of the building and melted them down to create the Baldacchino di San Pietro (the sculpted bronze canopy over the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica), there was outcry among the people of Rome, who famously declared: “What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did!”
The Pantheon consists of two parts: an enormous rotunda and a rectangular pronaos, or portico, which serves as the entrance. Originally the building was approached by a large flight of steps, but the level of the ground has since been raised so there are now just a couple of steps.
The frieze displaying Marcus Agrippa’s inscription and the now empty tympanum are supported by a series of Corinthian columns, every one of which is different.
The main feature of the building is the large rotunda with its enormous dome. The room itself is 43.3 m high with exactly the same width. The external walls are very simple, featuring three projecting cornices and several brick arches known as ‘relieving arches’. The interior, by contrast, is extremely ornate. You can even still see some of the original features, including the bronze coffers (sunken panels) and wall decorations. Around the perimeter are a series of alcoves, which today contain sarcophagi adorned with sculptures. The largest alcove, opposite the entrance, contains the altar for the Christian church.
To help distribute its enormous weight, the dome is divided into five rows of 28 coffers, which decrease in size as they progress upwards. The oculus in the centre of the dome is open to the elements. Measuring 9 metres across, this circular opening provides the only source of light into the building, aside from the entrance. The rain comes in too, of course, but thanks to the slightly sloping floor, the water soon drains away into some holes in the centre.
In its time as a Christian church, the Pantheon has provided the final resting place for many kings and famous artists. They include (to name just a few): Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known as Raphael (1483–1520), painter who created the Stanze di Raffaello (Raphael’s Rooms) Baldassare Peruzzi (1481–1536), architect who designed the Villa Farnesina Perino del Vaga (1501–1547), decorative painter and pupil of Raphael Annibale Carracci, (1560–1609), painter and one of the founders of the Italian baroque style Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), baroque composer