What is the Pantheon?

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Roman temple

A Pantheon is a set of all the gods of a particular polytheistic religion or mythology. Pantheon can also refer to a temple or sacred building specifically dedicated to "all deities" as the Romans believed in lots of gods and godesses. An example of such a structure is the Pantheon of Rome, built in the year 27 BC. This famous building was built almost 18 centuries ago in the business district of Rome. The Pantheon of Rome has thankfully survived nature's fury along the years, for it now stands as a live example of Roman architecture and other facets of being a Pantheon.


What is the History of the Pantheon?

The first ancient temple in the Pantheon was buit by Agrippa, the son-in-law of the Roman Emperor Augustus in about 27 B.C. But this temple burned down in 80 AD in the reign of Titus. The fire had severely damaged the First Pantheon and called for extensive repair except for some parts of the lower porch section and foundation. In its place, Domitian built another temple which also fell prey to major fires that broke out in Rome in the 60, 64, 79, 100 & 110 AD. The Pantheon that we see today is the third one that was built by Emperor Hadrian in 128 AD.



Why is the  Pantheon called the Pantheon of Hadrian?

The Pantheon was rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian during the period 118 to 128 A.D. There are controversial statements about when the Pantheon was really constructed. According to Ward Perkins, the building was built in the period of Emperor Hadrian. But this statement is disputed by Lugli who claims that this building was started somewhere after 123 AD but was finished by Emperor Pius about 140 AD. It is assumed that in ancient days when Romans had access to very few tools to build such a colossal structure, there should have been a 10 year gap between the constructions of the wall and the dome. But the structure is still called the Hadrian Pantheon as it was the architects of Hadrian who transformed the traditional Roman temple plan into a centrally planned structure employing vaulted architecture and concrete as well as more traditional building materials. Hadrian, who was strongly influenced by Greek culture, dedicated the temple to "All Gods" using a Greek name (Pan=All; Theon: Gods) rather than a Latin name. However in the honor of Agrippa, Hadrian left a message over the door saying that Agrippa had built the temple.


What is the design of the Pantheon?

The temple is made up mostly of brick and concrete. The building is circular, 142 feet in diameter and 142 feet tall. A massive dome rests on the top of the Pantheon. With its thick brick walls and large marble columns, the Pantheon makes an immediate impression on visitors. The ability of the Romans to draw intricate plans and stick to the most successful and time-proven construction techniques has made this complex building possible. It is truly a credit to their mental prowess and organizational skills. The building design is one of a large round shape with a dome covering the top and a light well in the center of this dome. Layers of beautiful thin brickwork cover the round walls on the outer periphery. Small access holes appear occasionally in the walls which were used during construction to frame interior voids. The main entrance is thoroughly impressive with double bronze doors 21 feet high (6.4 meters)which are a lasting and fitting contribution from the Roman metal smiths. These doors are protected by a high, broad porch, made with 16 well arranged granite columns supporting a gable styled roof. The beams in the roof structure of the porch are made of wood. They were substituted for bronze members stripped-out by those in later years needing metal for their canons. Roman surveyors located the inlaid marble floor which formed a convex contour to drain away the rain from the oculus for over hundreds of years.


How has the Pantheon's function chnaged with time?

The Pantheon was originally built as a temple but was converted into a church in 609 and remained so until 1885. The Church has since taken good care of the Pantheon. The Pantheon now contains the tombs of the famous artist Raphael and of several Italian Kings. Its ecclesiastic interior design is in contrast to the temple's structural design, but the marble floor signifies the original Roman design.


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