The Surprising Pantheon in Rome
I have already said that last October I was in Rome for a short holiday.
You know, Rome is full of beautiful things to visit. The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Basilica are perhaps the 3 most famous attractions. But there are many others.
For example I visited the Pantheon for the first time and, since it was a guided visit, I had the chance to learn many fascinated things about it.
From outside, the Pantheon looks like an ancient temple. And actually it was a temple built to celebrate all the different Roman gods and then turned into a church in 609 AD. However, its construction dates back to an even earlier time and what we see today is just the result of a restoration by the emperor Hadrian, back to 120 AD.
If the Pantheon looks imposing but plain outside, it’s completely different inside.
The interior space of the Pantheon is a large sphere, so the first particularity is that walls are curved. These walls are decorated with gables, statues and 16 Corinthian columns from Egypt.
Think about it for a moment! Those columns were moved for hundreds of kilometers on wooden sledges and barges, then loaded on vessels to cross the Mediterranean Sea and finally they were transferred to Rome. That’s crazy considering the technologies available at the time!
Well, actually the entire construction of the Pantheon seems incredible. Consider that it’s still not completely clear what materials did they use.
For me, the dome is definitely the most amazing element. 43 meters in diameter, it’s huge! It is larger than the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and is the largest un-supported dome in the world!
When you enter the Pantheon it is impossible not to lift your eyes and be speechless.
And then there is the Oculus (the eye), an 8 meters wide open hole at the top of the dome, which is the only source of light in the entire Pantheon. There are no other windows! Curious, isn’t it?
Looking at the Oculus many visitors asked a question to the guide: “What happens when it rains? Does the rain fall through the hole? ”. Yes, it does! But the hole creates an upward air flow that makes impossible for raindrops to hit the floor. Spectacular!
But the Oculus is magical also for a lighting effect that occurs on a specific date.
The entrance to the Pantheon looks to North, so it is always in the darkness. But on April 21 the midday sunlight coming from the Oculus passes through a metal grille above the doorway and illuminates the entrance. In that moment the Pantheon seems to be totally lighted up from the inside and that’s a unique vision! The most amazing thing is that this trick is not accidental. The Pantheon was build to make it possible exactly on April 21, since it is the mythologic founding date of Rome.
The Pantheon combines history and mysteries. The visit was one of the most interesting things I’ve done during my weekend in Rome. Truly amazing!