The Pantheon is a magnificent 2000-year-old temple, now a church, that stands as one of the most well-preserved ancient monuments in Rome and has had a significant impact on Western architecture. Commissioned by Hadrian and built on top of Marcus Agrippa’s original temple from 27 BCE, it has remained unchanged since its completion in around 125 CE. Despite its weather-worn exterior, stepping through its massive bronze doors and gazing up at the largest unsupported concrete dome in history is a breathtaking experience.
The Pantheon’s impressive dome will make you feel small as you stand beneath it. The grandiose structure is one of the best-preserved ancient monuments in Rome and has a rich history dating back over 2,000 years. The natural light streaming in through the central oculus, or circular opening at the top of the dome, adds to the awe-inspiring atmosphere, illuminating the regal tombs set into the luxurious marble-lined interior.
This temple, with its groundbreaking design, has been a model for architects for thousands of years.
For many years, the engraving beneath the triangular gable – “M:AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT,” meaning “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, built this in his third consulate” – caused scholars to believe that the current structure was Agrippa’s original temple. However, 19th-century excavations uncovered evidence of a previous temple and historians came to understand that Hadrian had simply preserved Agrippa’s original inscription.
In 608 CE, the temple, built by Hadrian and dedicated to classical gods, was consecrated as a Christian church and renamed as the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres. The name Pantheon comes from the Greek words “pan” meaning all and “theos” meaning god.
Despite its consecration, the Pantheon wasn’t completely immune to the widespread looting and destruction of Rome’s ancient structures during the Middle Ages. The gilded-bronze roof tiles were taken and the bronze from its portico was even used in the creation of Bernini’s baldachin at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Its exterior is a grand spectacle, boasting 16 massive Corinthian columns that each stand at 39ft tall and are made from a single block of Egyptian granite. These columns support a triangular pediment, with the brickwork featuring rivets and holes that show where the original marble panels were once attached.
The Pantheon was widely studied during the Renaissance and served as inspiration for several architectural masterpieces, including Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence. In addition to its architectural significance, the temple-turned-church also served as an important burial chamber, housing the final resting places of notable figures such as the artist Raphael, King Vittorio Emanuele II, and King Umberto I.
Every year during the celebration of Pentecost, a remarkable spectacle takes place inside the Pantheon. Tens of thousands of red petals are showered down from the dome’s central oculus, symbolizing the descent of the Holy Spirit to earth. This has been a cherished tradition for many centuries.
Visiting the Pantheon as a tourist is not permitted during religious services, which take place from 5pm on Saturdays and from 10:30am on Sundays. An audio guide, which costs 7 euros, is available for those interested in learning more about the site. There has been discussion about implementing an admission fee in the future.
The vicinity of the Pantheon is brimming with Italian restaurants, cafes, and bars. For a refreshing espresso, head to La Casa del Caffè Tazza d’Oro, considered one of the best coffee shops in Rome.
On the opposite side of the Pantheon, you can find Ginger, a modern dining establishment that offers a range of options throughout the day, including sandwiches, burgers, and full restaurant meals.