View Article: The Pantheon
University of Washington Honors Program in Rome

The Pantheon
Section One 1 of 7

The Pantheon
The building with its remarkable design and influential status, was one of the first temples to be converted to a church.
Standing in the Campus Martius, the Pantheon remains to date as the single intact edifice that has come down to us from the Greco-Roman period; it is also the only such temple that has been in continuous use up to our present time. Prior to being the rotunda as we see now, the Pantheon was originally a rectangular structure facing south, built during the Roman Republic by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in 27 B.C.E. The temple was dedicated in particular to patrons of Caesar and Augustus (Julio-Claudian family), Mars and Venus. It was burned in a great fire in 80 C.E. and reinstated by Emperor Domitian. Thirty years later in 110 C.E., the temple was struck by lightning and flamed to the ground. It was during Hadrian’s reign (117-38 C.E.) that the Pantheon was completely reconstructed to its current form. The emperor intended this sanctuary to “reproduce the likeness of the terrestrial globe and of the stellar sphere” with the open cupola as center so “prayers would rise like smoke toward that void where we place the gods”.

Roman masonry dome culminated with the Pantheon. Designed by an architect unknown in 120 C.E., the Pantheon is composed of three components: a colonnaded pronaos (entrance portico) – facing north – that reminisces the front of a customary Greek temple, an intermediate junction connecting it to the last element, and the close domed rotunda with an oculus admitting the only light. On the proch’s entablature bears the inscription M•AGRIPPA•L•F•COS•TERTIVM•FECIT in bronze letters, which Hadrian copied from Agrippa’s Pantheon. It translates to “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this”. This common practice by Hadrian – to omit the use of his own name on buildings he’d commissioned, was done in similar reconstruction projects throughout Rome – caused great confusion in determining the time range of Pantheon’s construction. The issue was resolved by epigraphers (1892) through studying tile-shaped bricks from the building. These ancient Roman bricks were systematically stamped with information regarding brickyard, current consul and the like in abbreviated Latin. As it turns out the majority of the Pantheon’s brick stamps are of the early 120s.

After a final renovation by Septimius Severus in 202 C.E., the Pantheon persevered through four centuries of flux and neglect. Despite the capital’s move to Constantinople and flooding from the Tiber river, the Pantheon remained intact while countless buildings nearby fell to rubble. In 609 C.E., Byzantine emperor Phocas gave it to Pope Boniface IV. The building was consecrated and converted to a church dedicated to Mary and All Saints. In the early 1600s, Pope Urban VIII stripped and melted ~200 tons of bronze roof trusses from the porch roof for fortification use in Castel Sant’Angelo. According to the Pope, the metal was far better used to “defend the Holy See than to keep the rain out of the Pantheon porch”. This act led to the quip “quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini” which translated means “what the barbarians did not do, the Barberinis [Urban VIII’s family name] did”.

More recently, the Pantheon was used as a tomb. The famous artist Raphael was buried in the rotunda in 1520; in 1878, King Vittorio Emmanuele II of United Italy in the great west niche; and King Umberto I in 1900.
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  Description Rome/Landmarks/Slideshow/img13.html
The Oculus
The Pantheon has an opening, the oculus, that is the only source of light entering into the temple
Architectural Plan of the Pantheon CHEOL/pantheon/the_pantheon.htm
Interior Painting
Painted by Giovanni Panini, the painting illustrates the interior of the Pantheon in the 18th century.
The splendor and longevity of the Pantheon never ceases to fill those that gaze upon it with awe; as Michelangelo acclaimed it as “angelic and not of human design”. Erect and completed in less than ten years, it has withstood ravages by both men and nature for nearly two millennia and continuing. Although the building’s survival owes a fair amount to its reconsecration as Santa Maria ad Martyres, the ingenious design and lasting materials nevertheless plays an important role. Made of pozzolana cement (mixture of lime and volcanic ash from Pozzuoli, Italy), the Pantheon is entirely concrete without any steel underpinning. The pronaos and connector have rectangular trenches as their foundation; a circular foundation measuring 7.3m wide and 4.5m deep is laid for the rotunda.

Originally, five marble steps led from the square in front of the Pantheon onto the entrance portico, so that the building ascended to a podium and orientation was given to the rotunda; the concepts of orientation and landscape were traditional in Roman design. Over the years, as nearby archcitecture fell to ruins, the Pantheon’s surrounding ground level rose and buried the steps. The portico also has 16 Corinthian granite columns supporting a gable-styled roof. Measuring exactly 40 feet (12.2m) in height, each monolithic shaft (part of the column, 48 feet) weighs 60 tons and was made and shipped from Mons Claudianus in Egypt. The majority of transportation back then was done via water route, which was efficient, albeit very costly. They were transported to the Nile River on sledges and then boated to Alexandria. There they crossed the Mediterranean to the port of Ostia and barged down the Tiber River. This façade effectively conceals, but not completely blocks from sight, the grandiose dome behind.

Through the 6.4m double bronze doors one enters the rotunda. Still the grandest in Rome, the dome is made of an immense cylinder surmounted by a hemisphere, with an overall inner span of 43.2m and equivalent height that would enclose a perfect sphere. Although now covered with sheets of lead, the dome’s exterior was at first entirely covered with bronze tiles, however it was stripped away in 663 C.E. by emperor Constans II. This dome is made up of superposing masonry masses in concentric tapering steps; heaviest masses (basalt) were used for the 20 feet base and lighter aggregate such as pumice were put on top. This system of design offsets the tendency of the dome to push outward and rupture. In addition, numerous niches honeycomb the cylinder portion of the rotunda, each with relieving arches to divert pressure from the superstructure to eight masonry piers concealed within the circular drum. At the cupola of the rotunda there is an aperture, the oculus, measuring 8.2m in diameter. This circular opening serves as the only source of light into the dome. The oculus also acts as a compression ring that properly distributes compression forces.

Because of its uninterrupted space, a single glance encompasses the entire interior of the Pantheon. Unlike other cathedrals or churches, the inner rotunda is exceptionally simple, with no stairs to climb and no corners to turn. It is precisely because of this simplicity that enables one to perceive of the rotunda’s vast and openness and naturally, be dumbfounded. Along the continuous cylindrical wall there are eight large niches. Directly opposite the entrance is the exedra/main apse, and the remaining six are axisymmetrically situated about the fourfold axis; the six distyled niches are adorned with two marble columns. Also along the curving wall, in between each of the great niches, are eight aediculae (temple-front) with alternating (in twos) triangular and arched pediments. Albeit redone in the 19th century, the paving of the floor is an accurate representation of the Hadrianic original. The floor rises slightly toward the center, patterned into a grid of sizeable squares and circles in squares made of colored marbles, granites, and porphyry; to note is the claret colored porphyry, which back then was the color reserved for royalty.

Triumph of Rome or triumph of compromise? It is unfathomable that even a feat like the Pantheon fails to reach perfection under the scrutiny of modern commentators. Davies’ article brings up several imperfections about the architecture. As it stands today, the Pantheon carries two gabled roofs. The portico has a lower one, one that a normal viewer would see when standing in front, and behind it is the less obvious yet taller pediment of the transition block. In addition, the columns that support the portico seem undersized because of the unusual largeness of the porch’s pediment; their spacing is also more disperse than is usual during the Imperial period. Davies hypothesized that the inconsistencies are due to an abrupt change in design during the midst of construction. The present shafts used for the portico columns differ from what was originally intended. 50 feet shafts (rather than 40 feet) were supposed to be used; this way, the portico would rise to the same height as the transition block with the two roofs merged to become one, thus eliminating the awkwardly dual stacked together. Moreover, the increased height of the shaft would also demand for a base wider in diameter, thereby conforming to the conventional spacing of that time. It is conjectured that the Pantheon settled for smaller columns because of the limited availability of 50 feet columns. With the 10 feet increase in height, each shaft would weigh 100 tons due to the proportional widening of the base; this increased weight would make transportation even more difficult. Alternatively, because the construction of Temple of Trajan occurred in concurrence with the Pantheon, Hadrian may have used the larger monoliths to build the temple, as a gesture of respect to his predecessor.
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The name Pantheon translates to “temple of all the gods”. During Roman times, the building functioned as a temple for all the gods under the Roman religion. When Hadrian rebuilt the temple, he continued the original purpose but aggrandized its all encompassing grandeur. In his eye, the sanctuary was an epitome of the earth and heavens. When standing in the center of the Pantheon directly beneath the oculus, the position was and still is comparable to the pivot of the universe, around which everything dutifully revolves.

In the 7th century the Pantheon was reconsecrated as a church. Subsequently amendments were made to parts of the interior; among other things, numerous pieces of religious art as well as tombs currently reside in the Pantheon. Within the central apse is a choir designed by Luigi Poletti in 1840. When standing at the entrance bay and facing the interior, the first chapel on the right is the Chapel of the Annunciation, which holds the fresco that gave the chapel its name, Annunciation. In the west niche lies the tomb of the first king of united Italy, King Victor Emmanuel II. The Madonna of the railing, formally known as The Madonna of Mercy between St Francis and St John the Baptist sits in the third chapel; the epithet of the painting came from its former position, as it was suspended in a niche left of the portico and protected by a railing. The Chapel of St. Joseph in the Holy Land is the first one left of the rotunda entrance. This is the chapel of the Confraternity of Virtuosi in the Pantheon. The group was established by Desiderio da Segni in the 16th century. The society continues today as the Academia Ponteficia di Belle Arti. In the next chapel dwells the tomb of King Umberto I and his wife Margherita di Savoia. Before his death, the great artist Raphael had requested that he be interred in the Pantheon, and so he was. The third niche holds Raphael’s ancient sarcophagus as well as Maria Bibbiena, his fiancée. The inscription on his sarcophagus reads ILLE HIS EST RAPHAEL TIMUIT QUO SOSPITE VINCI / RERUM MAGNA PARENS ET MORIENTE MORI, “here lies Raphael, by whom the mother of all things (Nature) feared to be overcome whilst he was living, and whilst he was dying, herself to die”.
Section Four 4 of 7

  Patron history/imperatores.htm
Emperor Hadrian
Third of the Five Good Emperors, Hadrian was most notable for putting end to the Roman Empire's expansion and his admiration for Greek civilization. antinous.html
Beloved Antinous
involved in a forbidden relationship with Hadrian, Antinous was a Greek youth from Bithynia. After his mysterious death, Hadrian diefied him as the last god of antiquity. Many statues of the Greek boy survived up to this day. Hadrian never recovered from the loss of Antinous, he died 8 years later in 138 C.E.
Of Hadrian’s many accomplishments during his reign, the most notable were his conclusion of the Roman Empire’s expansion, and his avid fascination for Greek civilization that earned him the name “Greekling”. Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus (76 - 138 C.E.) – he bared the name Publius Aelius Hadrianus before coming to throne – known to us as Emperor Hadrian, was the third of the Five Good Emperors. In Italica, Hispania, 76 C.E., Hadrian was born the son of Publius Hadrianus Afer. When his father passed away in 85 C.E., Hadrian was entrusted to Trajan and Acilius Attianus. Despite the lack of military conflict during his rule, Hadrian nonetheless gained plenty of military experience in his early years. In 95 C.E. Hadrian became the tribune of Legion II Adjutrix, located in Upper Moesia on the Danube River. Afterwards he was transferred to Legion I Minervia of Lower Moesia (present day Germany). In 98 C.E., with the death of Nerva, Trajan succeeded as emperor and Hadrian’s career began to advance. Because of his success in the Dacian wars, Hadrian was appointed quaestor (101 C.E.), praetor(106 C.E.), and consul(108 C.E.). In the ten years prior to his enthronement, Hadrian was more or less politically inactive, during which he became an archon in Athens (112), perhaps to devote his attention to the Greek culture that he was so fond of.

After coming to power, Hadrian quickly abandoned Trajan’s conquests in Armenia and Mesopotamia. Despite frequent resistances from high government officials, Hadrian decidedly concluded the expansion of the Roman Empire. He believed that further broadening of the empire was unnecessary, and it would be implausible to defend such a vast frontier. Hadrian strengthened the empire’s existing borders by erecting artificial fortifications along boundaries that lacked natural ones; among which the most famous is Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. His strive towards peace is also evident through his effort in reconciliation with Parthia when they were on the brink of war.

With his hair curled on a comb and wearing a full beard, Hadrian was extremely fond of Hellenistic culture. He typified Hellenistic culture on the Romans. Hadrian was the first Roman emperor to wear a full beard and moustache. While men of Greek almost always wore beards, the Romans were most commonly clean shaven. This attribute most definitely demonstrates his ardor for Greece. Moreover, the several construction projects in Greece reflect Hadrian’s admiration for the Greeks. In regards to his personal life, Hadrian is widely known for his relationship with the Greek youth Antinous. Antinous was born in Bithynia and met Hadrian in his teens. In 130 C.E., Antinous mysteriously drowned in Nile while they were touring Egypt. His sudden death left Hadrian stricken with grief. In memory of Antinous, Hadrian founded the Egyptian city Antinopolis and made him the last new god of antiquity.
Section Five 5 of 7

St. Hedwigskirche
“The Pantheon, the most celebrated edifice in the whole world”

The inscription by Urban VIII is by no means an exaggeration. It is without a doubt one of the most well known pieces of architecture of antiquity. With its innovative design, monumental scale, and most unusual durability, the Pantheon is studied by architects throughout time, especially during the Renaissance period, and buildings similar in style can be seen allover Europe: Hedwigskirche in Germany, the Possagno in France, the Monticello by Jefferson, and many more. It is important to point out, however, that even though much architecture was designed by drawing inspiration from the Pantheon, there has yet to be one that exactly copied the Pantheon. Whether the lack of such a replica is out of respect for the monument or inapt technology we do not know. But its effect will always linger on in past, present and future architectural style.
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  Personal Observations
The Pantheon was my first choice when we picked out research topics for the class. Although my initial interest for taking on this project was neither about the edifice’s design nor its history, through more and more exploration into these aspects I’ve found the knowledge very remarkable. Through understanding the architectural aspect of the Pantheon, I became appreciative of the monument in its full significance physically and symbolically. I am very amazed with the building’s unprecedented circular design, as well as its implication of the Roman people’s willingness in disregarding the status quo. I am enthralled by their ability to create mammoth structures which stand the test of time. The feeling of awe that you get with that first glance stepping into the Pantheon – to perceive the space’s vastness and continuity, a rarity when combined together – never goes away no matter how many first glances you’ve enjoyed.
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Brown, F. E. “Roman Architecture”. 1979: George Braziller Inc., New York.

Davies, P. “The Pantheon: Triumph of Rome or Triumph of Compromise”. Jun. 1987: Art History, vol. 10.

MacDonald, W. L. “The Pantheon”. 1976: Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

MacEwen, I. K. “Hadrian’s Rhetoric I: The Pantheon”. 1993: RES, vol. 24.

“Pantheon”. 2005: Encyclopedia Britannica Online. .

Scherer, M. R. “Marvels of Ancient Rome”. 1955: Phaidon Press, London.

Testa, J. “Rome is Loved Spelled Backward: Enjoying Art and Architecture in the Eternal City”. 1998: Northern Illinois University Press, Dekalb.

Ward-Perkins, J. B. “Roman Architecture”. 1974: Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York.

Grundmann, S. “The Architecture of Rome”. 1998: Axel Menges, Stuttgart.