Change of plans. We were originally going to see the Colosseum and the Forum on our first full day in Rome, but after my unfortunate incident with the clams at dinner the previous night, we decided to make an easy day of it. In the morning I slept in and our two young-adult children who were traveling with us did some shopping. Before lunch, Mark and I took a leisurely stroll down the sidewalk and slipped into a church that was just there on the street.
I don’t recall the name of this particular church or if it was even given an honorable mention in one of our tour books, but I want you to see how magnificent the Roman churches are, even perhaps the more insignificant ones. We were the only two people there. (Mark seems to recall that my brother recommended we look at this church, so if you really want to know the name, I may be able to track it down. Otherwise, you could just give me a break. I was still recovering from having spent the previous twelve hours violently ill.)
I might have been looking at paintings or sculptures by one of the masters.
I didn’t have any idea what I was looking at. But in some ways this small, seemingly everyday little church was as impressive as the rest. The wealth of the Catholic church over the years, as seen in the churches we visited, can hardly be quantified and perhaps is best described as . . . excessive. But it was a sight to behold.
Mark and I had a light lunch at a sidewalk cafe and I began to regain my strength and feel my feet under me again.
We met up with our daughter and son and headed for the Pantheon.
The most impressive thing about the Pantheon might be its magnitude. It’s almost scary-big. This is not the best perspective to show it, but you can just make out a few people in the bottom right hand corner of this photo for a size comparison.
The Pantheon looks like a circular building (where the dome is) with a very large columned porch stuck on the front.
This particular building was built by Emperor Hadrian around 120 a.d. on the site where two previous temples had burnt down. As was his habit when rebuilding or restoring Roman monuments, Hadrian dedicated the Pantheon to Marcus Agrippa to whom the first temple built on the site had also been dedicated. You can just make out the name of M. Agrippa inscribed on the Pantheon in this photo of the surrounding square.
The Pantheon is known for its remarkable dome, which served as a model and inspiration for the Duomo in Florence, the dome of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City and the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The panels of the dome were formed by pouring concrete-type materials into molds. As the tiles approach the top, the material the builders used got lighter and the panels got thinner going from about 7 meters thick at the base to 1 meter thick at the top. The open hole in the center (in this view you can just start to see the light coming in) is there by design to allow occupants to see the heavens. It provides the only natural light for the interior and also, occasionally a good floor rinsing if it rains.
Although the semi-circular niches in the circular walls used to display statues, now many are used as tombs for Italian monarchs from 1870 to 1946.
The tomb of Raphael, who died in 1520, was exhumed in 1833 and is now located here.
Although the name, Pantheon, refers to “all the gods,” no one knows for certainty what the purpose of this structure was. Some think that originally the 12 Olympian gods of Ancient Greece were venerated here, others believe it was never a temple at all, but merely “a place for rulers to glorify themselves by appearing in the company of statues of the gods,” AAA.
This photo also gives you a feel for the massive size of the Pantheon as people walk through the doorway. The reason it remains one of the best-preserved Roman structures, and mostly intact, notwithstanding the looting over the years of bronze and gold embellishments, is that in 608 the Pantheon was converted from a temple where pagan rites were performed to a Christian church—the first temple of its kind to do so.
Although we had enjoyed some of the finest meals of our lives so far in Italy, after the previous night’s experience with fresh seafood, we were all ready for a taste of home. We dined at Rome’s Hard Rock Cafe and splurged on hamburgers and fries and thoroughly enjoyed refillable soft drinks on the rocks.
We returned to our room to rest up for tomorrow and the Vatican.
Photos by Christine M. Grote and Mark Joseph Grote
Copyright © 2011 by Christine M. Grote
See more links to posts about Italy on my “Places I’ve Been” page.
Rick Steves’ Rome 2009
ROME: AAA Spiral Guides 2008