Located between Via della Rotonda and Via della Minerva at the Plaza della Rotonda, in Rome
Overall Score: A
Cost: Free (Guided tours are available for a fee)
Fun Potential: C
Hours: Monday – Saturday 8:30am – 7:30pm, Sunday 9am – 6pm, and public holidays 9am – 1pm. Last admission is 15 minutes prior to closing. The Pantheon on closed January 1, May 1, and December 25. Closed for mass during holidays (10:30am) and Saturdays (5pm). Click here for more information.
TIP: Because the Pantheon is a functional church, visitors are required to dress appropriately to enter. Visitors must have their shoulders covered and legs covered from the knees up (no sleeveless tops, short shorts, bare midriffs, or short skirts). Although not every improperly dressed visitor will get stopped by security or staff, it’s always best to err on the sign of caution. Dress respectful as it is a place of worship; bring a shawl or cardigan to be safe. There are street vendors outside the Pantheon selling scarves if you need one.
The Pantheon has been called the world’s only architecturally perfect building.
Upon seeing this architecturally stunning structure, Michelangelo once stated that the Pantheon must have been built by angels, not humans.
The Pantheon was originally built as a Pagan temple, a place to worship all gods. As the original buildings were burned down, this version was built and dedicated around 118-125 AD by the Emperor Hadrian. The exact location for the building of the Pantheon was purposeful, as legend says this is place where Romulus (founder of Rome) was picked up by an eagle after dying, and flown into the heavens.
It is believed that Roman Emperor Augustus chose friend and architect Marcus Agrippa to design and construct the first Pantheon around 27 BC. In 80 AD, the temple burned in a great fire and was later rebuilt by Emperor Domitian. Around 110 AD, it was struck by lightning and had to be built again; so the structure we see today, is the third Pantheon, built around 120 AD by the Emperor Hadrian.
Many historians agree that this is the best preserved ancient building within Rome. It is, in fact, in great condition because Emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV in 608 AD to use as a church. Although the Pantheon isn’t completely original, the changes that have been made over the years haven’t been hugely significant; over the years, some external marble, the bronze ceiling of the portico, bronze tiles, exterior sculptures, and two small bell towers were removed. Everything pagan was also removed from the Pantheon in 608 AD when it became a church. Most of the interior marble is original but has been greatly restored. Because the Pantheon has also been in use since its construction, it has always been occupied and cared for. Handing the building over to the Catholic church likely saved the Pantheon from destruction during the Medieval Ages.
Because of this transfer from Emperor Phocas to Pope Boniface IV in the seventh century, the official signage for the Pantheon now reads “Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs;” it is informally called Santa Maria Rotunda as well. After receiving the Pantheon for the church, Pope Boniface IV moved the remains of martyrs from catacombs to under the Pantheon’s altar, thus the “Martyrs” in its building’s name.
The Pantheon has a rectangular structure, called a portico, in the front of the building that showcases large granite columns. It also has an inscription to Marcus Agrippa, the architect, statesman, and friend to Emperor Augustus (who ruled when the first Pantheon was built). This piece of stone with the inscription was from the original temple that was built by Marcus Agrippa. It is believed that as Emperor Hadrian was rebuilding the Pantheon, he left that panel with the inscription to Agrippa as a kind gesture to the original architect and builder of the temple.
Attached to the rectangular entry is the grand rotunda. When you enter the Pantheon, you will be amazed at its size. When you look up, you will be seeing the world’s largest unreinforced solid concrete dome in the world, that is almost 2,000 years old! This dome, at 142 feet in diameter, is larger than the US Capitol dome and the dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. At the center of the dome is a hole, also called an oculus. Open to the sky, the oculus provided Pagan worshippers direct access to their gods, while providing natural lighting inside. The proportional oculus was the largest of its time and allowed Romans to see into the heavens and worship the planet gods. Any rain that falls inside the Pantheon, lands in a drain on the structure’s slightly slanted floor. The marble floor inside in Pantheon, remarkably, is original.
The greatness in this structure is its mathematical perfection. The distance from the floor to the top of the dome is exactly equal to the dome’s diameter. The interior is a cylinder with half of a sphere on top; the height of the cylinder is equal to the radius of the sphere. The architectural and engineering feat this required when it was made is incredible! Circles and squares are all thematically displayed throughout the interior.
The magnificence of the dome is how it was constructed, though not all of the details are known. Historians do know that the builders used thick materials (travertine) on the base of the dome and transitioned to thinner, lighter materials (pumice) on the top. This greatly lightened the dome’s weight. Hidden arches on both the interior and exterior of the building reduce weight over open spaces that span over vertical supports.
Now that the Pantheon is an acting church, there is an altar and seating within the building. Silence is often requested from visitors.
There are a few notable people buried within the Pantheon, including King Vittorio Emanuele II and King Umberto I, both kings of Italy. Umberto’s wife Queen Margherita is buried here as well.
Paintings and sculptures were added to the Pantheon during its centuries as a Catholic church.
In addition to royalty, there are also painters, a composer, and an architect buried here as well. Probably the most famous of these is the painter Raphael, who is buried here with his fiancée Maria Bibbiena. She died before they could get married.
When you are finished with your visit of the Pantheon, be sure to check out the Piazza della Rotunda, just outside the building. In the center of the piazza is a fountain with an Egyptian obelisk. It’s a great place to sit outside at a cafe or restaurant and watch all the locals and tourists walk by this 1800 year old building.
Have you been to the Pantheon? What did you like most? Let me know in the comments!