Visiting The Pantheon In Rome

Visiting the Pantheon in Rome was something that happened by accident.

You see, I do this thing where I don’t really research places I’m going to. I’ll have a brief look at the weather so I know what to pack, put out a few messages to foodie friends to see if there are any restaurants that I shouldn’t miss and… Well… That’s kind of it.

I know, I know, I should plan better.
But to be honest I avoid it because I like learning about things in retrospect.
I like learning about the intricacies of a place after I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
I like discovering what things were actually used for, after making up my own assumptions.

I don’t know why I work this way, it’s just how it is.
Set itineraries have always felt too strict and so my travel style developed into one where I wander and hope for the best. It usually works out pretty well and this was no exception because as S and I were roaming through the streets whilst looking for a shop to buy a bottle of water from, we ended up stood outside the Pantheon… Together with hundreds of other people.

Man, oh man, was that queue long.

Waiting in that queue without provisions seemed like a terrible idea, so we nabbed a bottle of water and some snacks, before venturing into the square to find the end of the queue. Trails of people stood orderly around each other until the queue disintegrated into chaos, winding backwards and forwards upon itself until there was no way to tell where the queue ended and passersby began.

So I did something I have never done…
I joined the group of people who had formed their own queue.
At the front, instead of waiting for hours.

I KNOW.
WHAT TERRIBLE BEHAVIOUR.

I still feel guilty because I literally never queue jump. It feels entitled and well, I’m English, you all know how us Brits love a queue. But seriously, I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the mess that was supposed to be a queue, so I did it.

Rumour has it, that the Pantheon is the most influential and well-preserved building from Ancient Rome. This interested me because I’m from a Roman city myself, but the most preserved elements there are the cathedral and some old walls.

Significantly less exciting.

The Pantheon, however, is much more majestic. It was assumed that the Pantheon was a former temple, but now it’s a church – something I was reminded of when I got to the entry point as I was told I needed to cover up. I was taken aback because I was wearing trousers, a cami and a blazer, so was significantly covered. But it was fine because I always carry a scarf just incases.

A blanket, a pillow – a disguise for your clavicle… Scarves have a multitude of uses, so it’s always worth carrying one!

The Pantheon was built many moons ago. Rumour has it that the original Pantheon was built and dedicated to Romulus (the mythological founder) after he ascended to heaven from the site, but the exact age remains unknown. However, it’s assumed by historians that Agrippa (Emperor Augustus’ right-hand man) built the first Pantheon in 27 BC.

Buuuuuut then it burned in the great fire in 80 AD.
And then it was rebuilt, struck by lightning and burned again in 110 AD.
That Pantheon didn’t have much luck back in those days!

The Pantheon (as we know it today) was then rebuilt (again lol) around 120 AD, so even if you disregard the initial versions – the Pantheon is still pretty damn old. Yet it’s remained so well preserved because Phocas, the Byzantine emperor, gifted it to Pope Boniface the IV back in 608 AD. Which was pretty damn generous if you ask me – nowadays you’re more likely to receive socks and scents for presents.

As you walk towards the Pantheon it’s hard for your jaw not to hit the floor. Towering Corinthian columns are strewn out front supporting the portico. Standing at 11.8m tall, and 1.5m in diameter, they’re by no means small. They’re by no means something which should be overlooked either, because whilst they might appear to be “just columns”, these columns have had quite the journey.

A journey which started with them being dragged over 62 miles by wooden sledge, before being transported by barge down the River Nile. The columns were then transferred to vessels and taken across the Mediterranean Sea to the Roman port of Ostia, where they were transferred onto barges once more, and taken up the Tiber River to Rome.

Quite the trip!

You may notice that the above photos aren’t the straightest I’ve ever taken, and that’s because despite my grid function being on – I was too busy taking it in with my eyes, to worry about looking through my lens.

I didn’t snap that many photos because people were praying, and even though the Pantheon is open to the public, it still felt intrusive to have my camera out in a place of active worship. I’m not religious myself but I always feel like worship should take place outside of tour times. Not because I have an issue with praying in any form – but because it must feel bizarre to pray whilst surrounded by so many people.

Of all of the elements which stood out at the Pantheon, I’d say the most fascinating was the architecture.

From the outside, the Pantheon appears rectangular, but it is only the first room (known as the cella) which has corners, and on the inside (rotunda) it is completely round.

The interior is formed using a series of arches which intersect, with each arch resting on piers. A huge feat considering the weight of the materials which were used.

But the Romans were aware of the nature of the materials they used to build and so they constructed the Pantheon using the heaviest materials at the bottom, with them becoming more lightweight as they reached the top. The base layer consisted of Travertine, with each layer after that becoming a mixture of resources.

Side note: I don’t know if you lot care about materials, but I found it interesting so I’m sharing!

Travertine and Tufa were followed by Tufa and Brick, then throughout the dome section, brick was used, before being finished off with pumice – the most lightweight of materials.

As you can see, S too was riveted by this information.

Eventually hunger got the better of us, and so we bid the Pantheon goodbye and went off on a quest for carbs…

But more on that in the next post!

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Have you ever been to the Pantheon?
If so, what did you think?