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Monuments of Rome - The Pantheon

"The most beautiful remnant of Roman antiquity is undoubtedly the Pantheon. This temple has suffered so little that it appears to us as the Romans must have seen it in their time. . I believe that this immense vault, hanging overhead without apparent support, gives the fools a sense of fear; but they soon calm down and say: "It is to please me that they took the trouble to give me such a strong feeling!"

In the year 27 BC. Agrippa , Augustus' son-in-law and architect, erected the Pantheon on the site where Romulus , according to legend, 'ascended' to heaven during a ceremony. It is a common, rectangular, medium-sized temple, conceived as a place of collective worship of several deities . Over the years the temple suffered fires and other calamities, and was restored several times until the emperor-architect Hadrian rebuilt it between 118 and 128 A.D. The pronaos with its sixteen columns, the enlargement of the 'rotunda' and the concrete dome - the widest ever built in masonry - built with an avant-garde technique, are certainly Hadrian's. Hadrian wanted to remember the original architect, and restored the inscription on the pediment: '(Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built). In 608, Emperor Phocas donated the temple to Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated it for Christian worship: Sancta Maria ad Martyres , a masterpiece of Roman architecture and the first case of transformation of a pagan temple into a Christian church The temple was built on a flight of steps starting from a porticoed square lower than the present one. Originally the canopy was externally covered with gilded bronze tiles placed in scales, which were taken away in 663 by the Eastern Emperor Constant II and replaced by a lead covering in 735.

The same fate befell the bronze coverings of the portico, used to cast cannons or given by Urban Vlll to Bernini to make the canopy of St. Peter's. There were few additions to the original architecture: the ornaments of the church, the tombs of great artists (Raphael) and those of the Royalty of Italy. Bernini also erected two ugly bell towers on either side of the tympanum called 'donkey ears', which were removed at the end of the 19th century. The Pantheon also housed honorary busts that Pius VII had removed and transported to the Capitol, to the current Protomoteca (a collection of busts of famous people). Today, the absence of the cladding exposes the brick opus with the relieving arches that support the weight of the mass. The pronaos hides the view of the 'rotunda' until the entrance to the space determined by a sphere inserted in a cylinder, the finite and the infinite together. The floor is covered with coloured marbles and so are the walls supporting the dome ending in a large circular oculos - an opening 9 metres in diameter - that served to give light to the interior and as an outlet for the smoke of the sacrificial fires. The axis of the building contemplates a small deviation from the north-south orientation: every year, at 12 noon on 21 June, the summer solstice, the ray of sunlight passing through the oculos strikes the visitor entering the interior from the centre of the portal.

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