The Pantheon in Rome

It is the largest  dome in the history of architecture. The Pantheon, the actual Church of Santa Maria Ad Martyres, is one of the most visited monuments in Rome. Numbers, records and even an exorcism… come A Spasso Con Sara and discover the true history of the Pantheon!

 

 

Once upon a time…the Pantheon

Erected by Agrippa, prefect and son-in-law of Augustus, in the first century BC, it was born as a temple dedicated to all the gods. It was built near the Palus Caprae, the marsh of the Campus Martius where Romulus disappeared, miraculously ascended to heaven while passing through the army.

The present appearance of the monument is the result of a restructuring carried out by Adrian between 118 and 125 A.D. following heavy damage caused by some fires. The Pantheon of Adrian is a hymn to the greatness of Rome and its artistic and social hegemony, born from the fusion of different cultures and traditions: the round structure, Roman in style, joins the external colonnade of Greek inspiration, creating a unique building of its kind perhaps designed by the genius of Apollodorus of Damascus.

 

Virtual reconstruction of the interior of Adriano’s Pantheon (Credits: altair4.com)

Hidden Messages

On 23 September, Augustus’ birthday, at 12:13 p.m., the sun entered the oculus of the Pantheon and drew a circle of light on the door of the temple. The emperor, at the entrance of the building, would have been illuminated as if by a lighthouse, appearing as the man of destiny, the savior of Rome, the bearer of a new golden age, the one who is blessed by the gods.

Archaeological studies have shown that the same director connected the centre of the Pantheon with that of the Mausoleum, the gigantic tomb that Augustus had built for himself and for all his descendants. The hidden message was strong and clear: after his death, the emperor, like a new Romulus, would also ascend to heaven to be venerated as a god. And so, the eye of the Pantheon, the circular window in the center of the dome, is transformed into a magical diaphragm between heaven and earth.

 

Map of the Campus Martius. The link between the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Pantheon (Credits: lincei.it)

In the Augustan project, the new buildings built in the northern Campus Martius – the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Pantheon, the Sundial of Augustus and the Ara Pacis – were in fact the cornerstones around which a project of exceptional communicative depth revolved: the Campus Martius, originally an area cleared of buildings and consecrated to Mars and gymnastic exercises, now became a place of glorification of the new emperor and the Rome he refounded.

As the Mausoleum of Augustus should have appeared. Today, the structure has been severely damaged and is being restored (Credits: romanoimpero.com).

 

The Mystery of the Dome

What amazes the visitor most is the dome, a true masterpiece of engineering that Michelangelo even considered the work of angels. It is larger than that of St. Peter’s and Brunelleschi’s in Florence and has always attracted the attention of Renaissance scholars, architects and painters such as Raphael, who chose the Pantheon as the place of his eternal rest.

 

The dome of the Pantheon seen from the inside (Credits: naturamediterraneo.com)

 

But how was such a marvel built?

 

The dome of the Pantheon was built with a single cast of  conglomeratum caementiciumthe ancestor of the modern concrete, over a huge roof sticks of wood. An innovative technique was adopted for those times: lighter and lighter materials were used as one climbed up from below. In the lower layer there are concrete layers with brick chips. Going up you will find concrete with tuff flakes, while at the top, near the eye edged in bronze of nine meters that lights up the floor, you will find concrete mixed with volcanic lapillus.

 

Diagram showing some of the pantheon dome construction systems (Credits: didacticarte.it)

The exorcism of the Pantheon and the new life of the building

The Pantheon in Rome also holds another record. In addition to being the most copied and imitated work of antiquity, it is also the best preserved monument. This happened because, at the beginning of the 7th century A.D., the emperor of Byzantium Foca donated the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV who transformed it into a Christian church saving it from the destruction and decline to which many monuments were condemned after the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

Where heaven and earth touch each other. The Pantheon has always fascinated artists and visitors from all over the world (Credits: ambranna.blogspot.com)

Legend has it that a solemn ceremony was organized that even included a real exorcism. On May 13, 608 AD, a large crowd gathered near the Pantheon to attend the ritual. The chronicles of the time report that from the inside of the building one could hear the chilling cries of the pagan demons who lived there. And so the pope forcefully opened the bronze doors and the cries of the idols became even stronger. No one was able to stand up during that show. Only the pope, undaunted, resisted and recited the formulas of exorcism. The demons left the Pantheon fleeing from the oculus of the dome and the immense door. The exorcism was accomplished and Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon to the cult of the Madonna and the Martyrs calling the new church Santa Maria Ad Martyres, name that currently still has.

 

Today the Pantheon is a Christian church. Mass is celebrated there regularly and special ceremonies such as the rain of rose petals are held on the occasion of the Christian feast of Pentecost (Credits: Roma-Events.com)

 

Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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