This is one of the most incredible works of architecture in the world, and a personal favourite. Nothing I write here will be sufficient to explain the power of the building. My photos may assist a little, but you’ll just have to visit and experience it for yourself.
As you walk towards the building from the side streets you will see rough brick walls with embedded arches, some patchy repairs and weeds growing on top, and you won’t be sure if this is what you were looking for.
As you move around, you will see some of the very few remaining panels of marble cladding that weren’t removed over the centuries.
Eventually, you find the portico and colonnades that incorporate the earlier, smaller square Pantheon of Agrippa from 27BC.
The entry was once via stairs, but the streets were raised over time resulting in the current direct entry.
13 of the 16 columns are original, as are the enormous 12m high bronze entry doors.
It is the interior that is spectacular – a giant dome with oculus drawing a shaft of light inside.
The dome is 43.3m diameter with a 9.1m oculus, and the space is also of the same height, meaning that a 43.3m sphere could fit perfectly within the construction.
Furthermore, the structure is not of brick but concrete and is still the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the world.
It is written that the dome was built over a huge mound of earth, that was removed once the concrete had set. There are also 3 different layers of concrete with different aggregates of differing weights with heavier travertine at the lowest section, then terracotta or tufa (volcanic stone) in the middle and pumice in the highest section.
There are various explanations for the Pantheon’s original uses but in 609 the building was converted into a Christian church for St Mary and the Martyrs.
A part of the beauty and richness of the building is the layering of all its previous histories, but most of all it is the vastness of the space and the soft light from the oculus covering all of the surfaces and materials within, while one watches the direct circle of sunlight move across the space.
Carefully located holes in the slightly sloping floor drain any rainwater that might fall through the oculus.
Upon leaving, one might take a seat at the corner café, enjoy the local cuisine while studying the passing people and the Pantheon’s exterior as the sun disappears.
Architect: Hadrian (118-128)
Photographer: Stephen Varady
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