The temple of all the gods: the Pantheon

Pantheon section - drawing

In the heart of the Eternal City there is an historic building where, once inside, you will be unable to resist looking up and being literally enchanted by the beam of light coming from an opening in the dome: it is the Pantheon. In Greek the word Pantheon means “temple of all the gods” and, in fact, this monument, dedicated probably to pagan gods worshiped in classical times, was rebuilt in the second century AD at the behest of an enlightened emperor, lover of the arts and culture, Hadrian, who was to start the remodelling of this temple of the Augustan age, which had been destroyed by several fires in the period prior to his government.

What is striking about the Pantheon is the perfection of its construction. The building can be inscribed inside a sphere and its height is equal to its diameter. The result is of great balance and harmony of the geometric shapes. The author of this project was probably the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. A true masterpiece of construction engineering, with a perfect and spherical space that strikes the visitor with its play of light and shadows. The technical name of the opening on the top of a dome is oculus and in the case of the Pantheon, it has a diameter of 9 meters.


One element that does not go unnoticed outside the Pantheon is a Latin inscription in bronze letters: M. Agrippa LF Cos. Tertium. Fecit. This Latin phrase, when translated dissolving the abbreviations, means: Built by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time. The inscription dates back to its first constructive stage, the Augustan age, in the first century. B.C. The Emperor Hadrian wanted however to keep this memory by creating a historical continuity with the past emperor.

We have already said that the meaning of the term Pantheon is “the temple of all the gods”, but to which gods was this building dedicated? For what purposes was it originally used? According to the historians, its initial function is that of a religious and pagan temple, consecrated to the protectors of the Julian family, to which Augustus belonged. Among the main deities connected to this cult over time were Mars and Venus. According to other scholars, however, the name comes from the characteristic dome that could evoke a celestial and divine vault.

Pantheon - Dome with oculus

Pantheon – Dome with oculus

What makes the Pantheon so special in terms of architecture? This temple is characterized by the presence of a Pronao, or an entry area in front of the inner zone, square in shape, as is the case of many Greek temples, and a circular space inside. Outside there are sixteen 13 metre tall grey and pink granite columns. From the constructive point of view the most important and interesting element is the concrete dome. It was built in a very accurate manner, using gradually lighter materials as the top was approached. Travertine is used in its lower part and at the top we find lava and pumice stone, which are lighter and therefore weigh less on the structure.

If the Pantheon has survived until now it is because during the seventh century it was converted into a Christian basilica, as was with many pagan monuments during the transition to the Christian age. Dedicated to Santa Maria della Rotonda, it has also boasted the status of “Basilica Minor”, while in 1870 it became the shrine of the Kings of Italy by accepting the mortal remains of Vittorio Emanuele II and of Margaret of Savoy, but also of Raffaello Sanzio, the great Renaissance artist.

Pantheon - Inside detail

Pantheon – Inside detail

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