"A Pantheon is neither sacred nor secular, but a place of man and nature, of man and the forces the ancients called the gods." - William L. MacDonald (Historian).
The Pantheon of Rome is one of the greatest achievements of the ancient Romans. They were very good in architecture and built numerous buildings and monuments. Some of the aqueducts of the pre-Christ era are still intact. Another marvelous example of a Roman architecture is the Roman Colosseum. The architectural styles used on these structures have been borrowed by many of the western countries.
Brief History of the Pantheon
The architecture of the Pantheon is unique to Rome. In Latin and Greek, the word pantheon means "Temple of all the Gods". Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman General, built the original Pantheon in 27 BC. It was built to commemorate the victory of the Octavian army in the Battle of Actium that was fought on 2 September 31 BC. This battle was fought between the army of Octavian Caesar and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.
The Pantheon built by Agrippa was completely destroyed in 80 AD when a fire broke out. It was reconstructed in 125 AD by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Hadrian's architects followed the exact design based on the inscriptions of Agrippa. The emperor gave the credit to Marcus Agrippa by inscribing "Made by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, in his third consulship" on the entrance of the Pantheon. Historians assume that the Pantheon was a place of worship because it housed all the gods and goddesses of the ancient Romans.
Some Facts about the Pantheon
The Pantheon has been in use for over 2000 years. It is famous for its design, size, and its huge dome. It has corinthian-style columns supporting the gabled roof in the front. The most amazing feature of this monument is its huge concrete dome. The dome was thought to be largest, until the recent times. The doors are made of bronze and are over 26 feet high, and the doorway is about 40 feet high and 20 feet wide.
A point worthy of mentioning is that the Greeks greatly influenced Roman architecture. The hemispherical dome of this monument exhibits the influence of Greek architecture and also the Greco-Roman idea of the "Cosmos". There is an oculus in the center of the dome known as the "Great Eye", which opens to the sky. The dome is intricately designed and decorated with bronze rosettes. The coffers of the dome were considered as the vault of the Heaven. Historians believe that the "Great Eye" symbolized that the Heavens guarded the entire Roman Empire.
The architectural harmony of this awe-inspiring structure is well-balanced and was achieved by keeping the diameter of the dome equivalent to its distance from the floor. The weight of the dome was greatly reduced by the sunken panels known as the coffers and also by using cement made from pumice and pozzolanic ash (volcanic ash).
The total weight of the dome is approximately 4,535 metric tons. The weight of the upper part of the dome rests on the voussoirs (wedge-shaped stone edges), each measuring 30 ft in diameter. The lower part of the dome rests on eight-barrel vaults. The thickness of the dome at the base is around 21 feet and near the oculus it is approximately 1.2 meters. The distance between the dome base and the floor is 71 feet. The distance of the oculus from the floor is equivalent to the diameter of the dome, i.e. 142 feet. The diameter of the oculus is 7.8 meters.
Each column that supports the gabled roof weighs approximately 60 tons. The columns are 39 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter. These columns were made from stones quarried in Egypt. There are sixteen columns altogether in the portico. The "Great Eye" is the source of light and also serves as a ventilator. In case, snow or rain falls inside the Pantheon through the oculus, there are ducts that help in draining the water.
Phocas, the Byzantine Emperor presented the Roman Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV to save it from the destruction and pillage. In 609 AD, it was converted into the "Chiesa di Santa Maria ad Martyres", a Catholic church. On special occasions, masses are held here. During Papal rule, it was used as a burial ground for kings and other famous people including painters who had embraced Christianity. The interiors of this great monument was done by Giovanni Paolo Panini between 1691-1765 AD. Pope Clement XI built the high altar and the apse (recess of the altar) in 1700 AD. Alessandro Specchi designed this altar. There are tombs of Raphael, the painter (died in 1520); King Victor Emmanuel II (died in 1878); King Umberto I (died in 1900); King Victor Emmanuel III (died in 1947); and many more in the Pantheon.
Some of the buildings that were constructed on the model of the Roman Pantheon are The Rotunda, University of Virginia; Low Memorial Library, Columbia University; Grand Auditorium, Tsinghua University; Jefferson Memorial, Washington D.C.; and Duomo, Florence.