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Roman Architecture - The Pantheon

( Originally Published 1915 )

The word " Pantheon " may mean " very sacred," but the usual interpretation is " Temple of all the Gods."

The Pantheon is unique in Rome in the world as a building which has been in use for nearly 1800 years and still retains its old walls and vaulting. The bronze doors, though much restored, are originals. The doorway is 40 feet high and 20 feet wide, and the old bronze doors, the oldest and finest in Rome, are 26 feet 6 inches high, a bronze lattice filling the rest of the space. The interior is remarkable. All the light enters from the round hole in the dome which is about 28 feet in diameter. Yet this light is ample and, what is more important, it is perfectly evenly distributed. No lighting ever devised gave so fine an effect.

There are really two parts to the Pantheon, the circular part or rotunda and the portico. The portico was originally a part of a temple built by Agrippa, but was not put in its present place until some time after the great rotunda was built by Hadrian (117 A.D.). It is poorly joined to the main edifice. Notice the sixteen columns which are of red and gray granite. The pitch of the roof of this portico is steeper than that of the Greek temples, and than other Roman ones. Place your thumb over the apex of the gable so as to produce the effect of lowering the gable and see if you do not think it improves the looks of the building. The name of Agrippa still shows on the front, but the sculptures of bronze, which once filled the pediment, have disappeared. Twelve superb granite Corinthian columns 50 feet high support the portico.

The rotunda is splendidly preserved; the interior has all the appearance of the original paneling of marble. It measures 145 feet in diameter internally, but the walls are 20 feet thick to support the great dome that rises to a, height of 140 feet. Around the rotunda are seven niches alternately rectangular and semi-circular, and fronted by Corinthian columns.

There is a quiet magnificence about this building which is unequaled. We visit many churches in a trip to Europe, and many galleries, and see many great buildings, but there is none that takes a stronger hold upon our feelings and our memory than the Pantheon.

There is an important point to note about the dome. To build so huge a dome of separate pieces of stone was a thing no one could have done.Hundred of years later the problem of building such a dome at Florence was more than all the architects could engineer until one great man solved it. The reason for the difficulty is the great thrust or pressure outwards upon the walls,which so heavy a weight induces.But the dome of the Pantheon is practically of solid concrete, so that there is not the same outward pressure.The dome rests almost like a solid lid upon the walls beneath. Figure 27 is a sectional view of the Pantheon showing the use of vaulting, arches, and columns, and Figure 20 shows the ground plan, and also that of the baths, which were, formerly, a part of the structure.


It is said that, while the Emperor Charles V was in Rome (1536), he ascended the roof of the Pantheon accompanied, among others, by one of the Crescenzi family. The latter youth afterwards vaunted that he had been half-a-mind to push his majesty into the abyss; and so to have avenged the cruel sacking of the city ten years previously. Hearing it, his father retorted bitterly : " We Crescenzis were used to do things, not to talk of doing them."

It has become a burial-place of painters, among them Raphael. A picture of his funeral by Rogers follows :

When Raphael went, His heavenly face the mirror of his mind, His mind a temple for all lovely things To flock to and inhabit when he went, Wrapt in his sable cloak, the cloak beware, To sleep beneath the venerable Dome, By those attended who in life had loved,

Had worshiped, following in his steps to Fame ('T was on an April day when Nature smiles), All Rome was there ...all were moved:

And sighs burst forth, and loudest lamentations.

The Pantheon contains many tombs and valuable relics. Once a year the great doors are opened wide to admit the crowds who throng to pay their tribute of respect and love to the remains of the assassinated King Humbert. A circular row 0f great candles, each many feet high, is placed around the interior, and cartloads of flowers are used for decoration. A book is provided in which visitors at this time write their names, and it is a solemn and beautiful sight to watch the leading citizens of Rome come to pay their respects.

Byron says of the Pantheon:

Simple, erect, severe, austere, sublime Shrine of all saints and temple of all Gods, From Jove to Jesus spared and blessed by time, Looking tranquillity, while falls or nods Arch, empire, each thing round thee, and man plods His way through thorns to ashes glorious Dome! Shalt thou not last? Time's scythe and tyrants' rods Shine upon thee—sanctuary and home Of art and piety—Pantheon! Pride of Rome !

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