The Pantheon—Temple of all gods stands, still, in Rome

Not the Pantheon—just a church


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 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

First stop Fontana di Trevi

Close up of sculpture on the Trevi Fountain
Close up of sculpture on the Trevi Fountain

Well, technically, the Trevi Fountain was not our first stop in Rome. Our first stop in the bustling city was back to the airport where we had rented our car upon our arrival in Italy. As we were staying in the city with mass transport on most corners, and as we did not want to hassle with driving and parking in Rome, we ditched the car and caught a taxi from the airport to our bed and breakfast.

Map of Rome from Roma Pass
The area we covered in our night walk. If you click, you can see an enlargement.

We stayed at the Hotel Giardino near the corner of Via Nationale and Via Maggio. The rooms were comfortable. The hotel provided a light, but filling continental breakfast. And you couldn’t beat the location. We were about equi-distance from the Colosseum to the south and Fontana di Trevi to the north. We walked most places that we went (with occasional assistance from the metro and bus lines once we figured it all out).

Piazza del Quirinale
Piazza del Quirinale

Anxious to get our first look at Rome, we dumped our bags in our rooms and headed to the Trevi foutain. About two blocks up Via Maggio we passed by the Piazza del Quirinale, previously the home of the pope and now the home of the Italian president. We did not  see Berlusconi once during our many trips past this corner, only his guards.

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy
Trevi Fountain

Our first view of the Trevi fountain—like so many other sights in Italy, this exceeded my expectations both in size and grandeur. It is a powerful water fountain supplied by the aqueduct system built by an emperor in 19 B.C.  In 1732, commissioned by the Pope, Nicola Salvi created the masterpiece we see today.

Spanish Steps, Rome, Italy
A distant view of the Spanish Steps

From there we walked on over to the Spanish Steps and began Rick Steve’s recommended night walk (in reverse). The Spanish Steps are located in an upscale shopping area. Traveling with our two young-adult children, we tried to stay clear of most of the shopping. The square around the Spanish Steps is a popular night spot.

Trevi Fountain at night

Here we are at the Fotana di Trevi again, this time under lights. Stunning.

Nighttime. No tri-pod. Walking. Lost in Rome. Blurry photo. I know.

I think this is the Egyptian obelisk (but don’t quote me on it. It was night time and there were a bunch of them.) “taken as a trophy by Augustus after his victory over Mark Anthony and Cleopatra in the 6th century.” (Steves)

Pantheon, Rome, Italy

The Pantheon is also stunning. We turned a corner and there it was. A monstrosity. I still get kind of a creepy, tingling feeling just looking at these photos of it. Those columns are huge. More later.

Piazza Novena Rome, Italy
Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain on the Piazza Novena

Next stop, Piazza Navona. According to Rick Steves, this piazza “features street music, artists, fire-eaters, local Casanovas, ice cream, fountains by by Bernini and outdoor cafes.” We only saw the fountains and cafes. Maybe it was a slow night, or more likely, we were simply too early. The space this piazza occupies was originally a race track built by the Emporer Domitian. From there we went to our last stop on the night walk, Campo de Fiori, where we had dinner at one of the outside cafes. I ordered a fresh seafood pasta dish that evidently contained clams. Big mistake. (I don’t know how I could have momentarily forgotten the episode after lunch at the Clam Shack in  Kennebunkport, Maine.).

Victor Emmanuel Monument, Rome, Italy

We walked back to our hotel past the Victor Emmanuel Monument built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country’s unification. The chariots on top of it are visible in many places throughout the city.

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