Rome - Pantheon
Rome's Pantheon or Temple of All Gods is one of the best-preserved monuments handed down by the Empire. As the Latin inscription on the front of the temple announces “M•AGRIPPA•L•F•COS•TERTIVM•FECIT”, the Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa, son-in-law of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, in 27-25 BC.
Ongoing debates concern both the name and shape of the Pantheon. The aforementioned Latin inscription mistakenly led to believe that the present-day circular temple coincided with the first original building, archeological digs later confirmed that Agrippa’s construction presented a traditional rectangular t-shaped form that went destroyed in a fire in 80 AD leaving only the façade. Emperor Domitian rebuilt the temple, but in 110 AD it suffered a similar fate only this time it was struck by lightning. The current Pantheon, dating back to 118-125 AD, can be attributed to Emperor Hadrian and appears today exactly as it was in Ancient Rome. The inscription was maintained as a homage to Agrippa. Originally intended as a sacred temple, the Pantheon was later converted into a Christian basilica by Pope Boniface IV in 609 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Martyrs, thus enjoying papal protection through time that kept it from abandonment and destruction.
Etymologically the word “Pantheon” comes from the Greek words “πᾶν”, “all” and “θεῖος”, “of, (or) relating to, all the gods”; however, according to Roman Senator Cassius Dio the term was, instead, to be intended more as a nickname referring either to the statues of gods surrounding the building or to the fact that the vault resembles the heavens.
An architectural wonder in the heart of Rome attributed to Syrian Architect Apollodorus of Damascus and described by Michelangelo as an “angelic and not human design”; 16 monolithic columns adorn the Pantheon’s pronaos while a massive 7 meter high bronze door opens to an unprecedented rotunda featuring an immense, one of a kind, concrete domed ceiling symbolizing the vault of heaven - unique in both dimensions and architecture - at its center a 9 meter oculus, the only source of natural light. To this day, it is still largest unsupported dome in the world, brilliantly lightened so that not only the thickness of the walls decreased as they reached the oculus, but also their weight as they were progressively built with lighter materials.
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The site where the Pantheon stands is believed to be the exact location where Romolo, founder of Rome, was - upon death - grabbed by an eagle, carried to heaven and positioned amongst the Gods! Anciently, the heat waves generated by the candles lit inside the temple would lift towards the ceiling scattering the drops of rain that entering the oculus. Although clever, this system was not sufficient in cases of heavy rain, in fact, the floor beneath the oculus presents 22 holes designed to drain incoming water.