The Story Behind Italy’s Pantheon Dome

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Interior of the Pantheon in Rome

The Pantheon has been the facelift of Rome despite its existence for over 2,000 years. It is regarded as the only ancient Roman building that has remained intact throughout the changing seasons of time and events.

Built around 126 and 128 AD by Emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon was coined from the Greek words “pan” and “theos” – pan (all) and theos (gods)- which come together to form “pantheon” meaning “all the gods.” It is, however, unclear why this name was given to the building.

The Pantheon initially was preceded by two buildings with the same name between 25 and 27 BC and built by Roman consul and architect, Marcus Agrippa, which, unfortunately, burned down and collapsed.

Professor of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Ochsendorf, says in a CNN documentary that the Pantheon represents a chunk of human history and creativity.

“Anyone who steps inside the Pantheon immediately feels the crushing weight of human history, but also the incredible lightness of human creativity,” he said.

There are no records to back or confirm what the Pantheon was used or built for. But it is also said that it was the venue where Emperor Hadrian feasted with his fellow gods. Other legends describe the Pantheon as a holy site where Romulus, Rome’s founder ascended to heaven to become the god, Quirinus.

“Roman temples were multipurpose structures. And so what actually went on in the Pantheon is hard to say,” says Lynne Lancaster, a Professor for Andrew W. Mellon Humanities at the American Academy in Rome.

Being a symbol of Imperial power, the Pantheon is made of white marble from Greece, purple and black marble from Turkey,  concrete invented by Romans, yellow marble from Tunisia, and granite from Egypt.

Despite the present-day Pantheon being completed during Emperor Hadrian’s reign, he dedicated the building to the first architect to dream about and create the Pantheon: Marcus Aggripa. Thus, the inscriptions on the Pantheon today read Aggripa’s original words; “Marcus Agrippa the son of Lucius, three times consul, made this”. It is also unclear why Hadrian did that.

The Pantheon today serves as a church after Pope Boniface IV sought permission to place the remains of martyrs removed from the Christian catacombs in the Pantheon in 608. It has since served as a temple of prayers for Christians and was named “St. Mary and the Martyrs”.

As a tourist site, the Pantheon is the highest visited site in Italy and receives around 9 million visitors annually.

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