An Italian Visit: Rome – Pantheon

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A building that exceeded a lifetime of expectations…

A stormy morning at the Pantheon.

The Pantheon. There is something about this building that literally speaks to your spirit. Even as a child the images I saw fired my imagination and drove me to absorb even more of this monumental symbol to great civilizations that once ruled the planet. Like most religious edifices, this one sits atop the remains of at least one and perhaps as many as 3 previous houses of worship. There’s no quibbling, however, about the uniqueness of this structure and the incredible state of preservation it is in.

Piazza della Rotonda

My expectations for the Pantheon in terms of location and surroundings were vague. I thought perhaps there would be open parks or large paseos. To be honest, I was so focused on the interior (primarily that amazing dome) that I hadn’t given it a lot of consideration. I wasn’t entirely surprised to find it was surrounded by buildings with a similar or even greater height. It’s amazing to me that there are people who, when asked where they live, can reply next door to the Pantheon…incredible. The Piazza della Rotonda in front of the Pantheon has existed for about as long as the church has been around. A few hundred years ago a fountain was designed (Fontana del Pantheon) and about three hundred years ago they found an obelisk laying around that was created by Ramses II (about 3,000 years earlier) and placed it on top. I wonder how many of the tourists sitting on the steps to that fountain have any idea what they are next to?

As you enter the Pantheon, massive columns support the roof above. They are Corinthian in style and just beautiful. They’ve stood for nearly two thousand years. I wonder what constructed building today is designed for that lifespan? Time has left its mark though and I wish so much I could know the cause of the scars. Perhaps it’s my construction background or early desire to be an architect but I feel a building is more than just a building. It’s like they have a life of their own and similar to an ancient oak or windblown bristlecone pine that has seen nearly two million days they wear the struggles of survival humans can’t truly understand.

The Pantheon is an active church with regular services (mass) on Sundays…for the last 1,400 years.

The key to the survival of the Pantheon is that it has been in continuous use since it’s completion and since the 7th century as a Christian church. Inside, the building is so large there are areas set aside for seating and altars yet there are still large areas empty except for the magnificent sculptures, paintings, and incredible structural detail. On the morning of my visit, the weather was severe with intense rain and pea-sized hail falling less than an hour before the building opened for visitors. Once the doors opened and myself along with a few other hearty souls were granted access we were unable to walk to the center of the building as there was still a substantial amount of water on the floor from the open oculus above. A few hundred years back, the floor was redesigned with a half dozen holes in the floor perhaps 1 inch in diameter to drain off the frequent water falling through the oculus. The holes themselves have obvious wear and exhibit changes driven by the draining of water across their edges over the centuries.

The most recognized aspect of the Pantheon is its magnificent dome. It feels like a sky from another world. The light from the oculus creeps across the textured and patterned ceiling casting a shadow here and creating a warm glow there. In the center is the great round oculus with the heavens visible above. It’s magical. I took so many images, but in the end, I felt like I just couldn’t capture the beauty hanging above my head. I wandered in circles for an hour snapping picture after picture but I feel it was mostly a failed attempt at portraying the way this place made me feel. I feel wiser now and hope someday to revisit with this experience guiding me toward a better representation of this timeless place. For more images, see my gallery of images here.

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