on March 3, 2010
Although the Pantheon has changed over the years, losing some of its gilded sparkle, it has lost none of its wonder. Today, it stands (much as it did in the year 120 AD) to awe those mere mortals who enter it. Standing below the great oculus, looking up, it surely impresses visitors as a place of gods.The Pantheon (originally Greek, "pan" = "all" and "theon" = "gods") was originally built as a temple to honor all of the pagan gods worshipped by the Roman people. Today it is considered not only a treasure of Italy, but the world as UNESCO has declared it (and other parts of Ancient Rome) a World Heritage Site, recognizing its importance to all humanity.Originally built in 27 AD by Emperor Augustus’s general, Agrippa (whose name remains on the building to this day), the Pantheon that has existed throughout the centuries to the present day is the vision of another man, the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian is considered to be one of the most prolific and architecturally astute builders in the Roman Empire. Agrippa’s Pantheon was replaced in 120 AD by Hadrian with one that was perfect in dimensions, 141 feet high by 141 feet wide, using a vast dome.This majestic circular building is modeled on the concept of a sphere, designed to parallel the known universe at the time. Resting atop a concrete ring are five levels. Each level symbolizes a planet (only five planets were known to exist in Ancient Rome). Each level contains 28 trapezoid-shaped indentations (or coffers), which represent the lunar cycles. At the top of the dome is a huge opening (30 feet in diameter), which not only serves as the temple’s light source, but represents the sun, giving life to the planets. This opening, or "oculus" at the Pantheon’s apex is symbolic of "the all-seeing eye of heaven."Below these celestial symbols were seven large openings ("niches") that once contained statues of the Roman gods, including Mars, Mercury, and other gods, as well as the godlike Caesar ("Emperor") of the time.Like many Roman structures, however, the Pantheon has been subject to plunder. Throughout Rome’s history, buildings of Ancient Rome have been plundered for their resources to build new structures. Temples become churches, marble is removed to create palaces. The Pantheon was no different. Although consecrated as a church in 608 AD, in 655 AD, the gilded bronze, which covered the Pantheon, was removed for other purposes. Later, in the 17th century, the bronze beams of the Pantheon’s columned portico were taken by Pope Urban VIII for use on the high altar at St. Peter’s Basilica. Throughout the years, much of the marble facing was removed, as were the bronze stars which appeared in each of the coffers. Despite this defacing and plundering, it seems even more amazing that the Pantheon stands all these centuries later in one piece. Moreover, its bronze doors (with bronze such a valuable commodity in Ancient Rome) remain original, dating back more than 1,800 years!Not only was the Pantheon temple plundered, its look and purpose have changed over the years. Where the portico remains, once stood two Baroque Bell Towers designed by Bernini. Ridiculed for their appearance (the Romans called them "donkey’s ears"), they were torn down. The Pantheon also became an important burial ground, and two Italian rulers from the 19th century lie in rest at the Pantheon, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I. Perhaps even more famous is the artist Raphael, whose tomb can be found between the second and third chapels.It’s been called "the only architecturally perfect building in the world." Rome’s Pantheon, created by using basic mathematical principles, is an example of perfect balance and proportion. Not only that, the Pantheon is the oldest surviving structurally intact building from antiquity. While there are many ruins in Rome, there is only one Pantheon.
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