History – Who Built the Pantheon & When Was it Built?
The first temple was built by Marcus Agrippa, son-in-law of the Emperor Augustus between 27 and 25 BC. However, this temple was destroyed by fire in AD 80. It is thought the original temple was rebuilt and once again destroyed by fire caused by a lightening strike before the current structure was built. The existing structure was designed by Emperor Hadrian in AD 118 and completed in AD 128.
The entire collection of Roman gods was called the Pantheon, and in fact in ancient times you could worship any of the gods whose statues were located in the niches in the Pantheon.
If modern unreinforced concrete were used in a building of the size of the Pantheon in Rome it would not stand under the load of its own weight. The composition of the concrete used in the dome is still unknown.
Video to learn about the history & how the Pantheon was built
Pantheon Famous Inscription
When you stand outside of the Pantheon in Rome and look up at the Latin inscription across the pediment you are taken back over the centuries to the time of Marcus Agrippa and Emperor Hadrian. The inscription translates as “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built this.”
Pantheon Fun Facts & Architecture
One of the most remarkable things about the Pantheon in Rome is that the inside dome is as high as it is wide, about 142 feet (43.3 m). The dome is the inspiration for many domes that came later including St. Peter’s dome designed by Michelangelo and the dome in Florence designed by Brunelleschi. The dome of the Pantheon covers the entire hall making the impact more significant than domes that cover only a portion of a building.
A circular opening known as the oculus lets the only light in to the Pantheon. The oculus is about 30 feet across. The purpose of the oculus was not only to illuminate the interior but it was also built to let those in the temple contemplate the heavens.
The floor of the Pantheon is slanted to let rainwater drain from the building. The bronze doors of the Pantheon are among the few bronze doors from Roman times that have survived although they have been restored a number of times.
The Pantheon is the best preserved ancient building in Rome. In the 7th century, Christians claimed they were plagued by demons as they passed by the Pantheon. In AD 609, the Pantheon was consecrated and dedicated to Our Lady and all the Martyrs (it is known as the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyrs). The consecration as a church ensured the Pantheon’s preservation. The removal of any item, no matter how small or insignificant, would constitute a mortal sin.
In the 17th century pope Urban VII had the bronze ceiling from the portico melted down. Although there is some question as to what the bronze was used for it is thought that much of it went to build the canons in the Castel Sant’Angelo. It is also thought that some went to build the bronze canopy over the altar at St. Peter’s, though this is not likely the case.
The Pantheon in Rome was the largest concrete construction in existence until the 20th century and the world’s largest freestanding dome until the 1960’s.
There are a number of tombs in the Pantheon in Rome including one for the artist Raphael and Italy’s first two kings, Umberto I and Vittore Emanuele II.
The Pantheon is located in the Piazza della Rotonda which was created under Clement XI, pope from 1700 to 1721. The fountain in the piazza was built by Giacomo della Porta in 1578.
Go to the Pantheon in the morning when it first opens so you can appreciate it in silence without the hustle and bustle of other tourists. Lay down on your back on one of the benches and look straight up through the oculus.
21 Pantheon Fun Facts at a Glance
#1 – The Pantheon is located in the Piazza della Rotonda even though the piazza is square not round
#2 – The Pantheon has been in continuous use since it was built
#3 – The structure is still used as a church with masses and weddings performed there
#4 – History Fact – The building you see is actually the third structure to be built on the site. The first was built by Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC during the reign of Augustus and was destroyed by fire in 80 AD. A temple was rebuilt on this site which was struck by lightening and destroyed by fire in 110 AD. The existing structure was rebuilt by Hadrian around 128 AD.
#5 – The original Pantheon was built on the estate of Marcus Agrippa which also included the Baths of Agrippa and The Basilica of Neptune. The Pantheon was thought to have been his private temple.
#6 – The original structure was a temple though since the 7th century it has been used as a church
#7 – In 609 the building was converted to a Christian church. The Pantheon’s consecration as a church likely saved it from destruction as so many of Rome’s ancient buildings were destroyed during medieval times.
#8 – Fun Architectural Fact – The dome of the Pantheon is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
#9 – Architecture Fact – The height from the floor to the oculus (the opening in the dome) and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 feet (43.3 meters). For comparison purposes the Capital Dome in Washington DC is 96 feet in diameter.
#10 – Fun Fact – The original interior had much gold which was stolen over the years by popes and emperors
#11 – Historically the origin of the name Pantheon is unknown, but the word Pantheon often refers to buildings where the well-known are honored or buried
#12 – For 1300 years the Pantheon’s dome was the largest dome ever built when it was replaced starting in the 1960’s by the domes of numerous sports stadiums
#13 – Even though Italy is now a republic supporters of the monarchy still look over the royal tombs of the two king’s of Italy that are buried there, Vittorio Emanuelle II and Umberto I
#14 – The original granite columns were quarried in Egypt and were transported by sled, barge, ship and rollers to their current site
#15 – When Michelangelo first saw the Pantheon in the early 1500’s he said it was of “angelic not human design.” By then the Pantheon was already more than 1350 years old.
#16 – In fact, the Greek architect of the Pantheon was executed because of an argument about the design
#17 – On April 21 the midday sun strikes a metal grill above the doorway filling the courtyard with light. Romans celebrate April 21, 753 BC as the founding date of the city
#18 – According to legend it is where Romulus, the founder of Rome, was seized by an Eagle and taken to the gods
#19 – It is not known why Hadrian, whom history depicts as arrogant and egotistical chose to give credit Marcus Agrippa with the following inscription on the façade:
“It was built by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time.”
Beneath this inscription is another one assigning credit for a restoration:
“Emperor Lucius Septimus Severus…and Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus…with each refinement they restored the Pantheon, damaged by the passage of years”
#20 -In ancient times the Pantheon was surrounded by taverns, sheds, shops and vendors selling all types of goods both legal and illegal. The smells and stench were said to be overpowering, the filth staggering. The piazza was occupied by thieves and other sorts of unsavory characters. This area was demolished in the 1800’s by Pope Pius VII who takes credit for cleaning up the area on a nearby plaque.
#21 – Two movies shot scenes near the Pantheon: Roman Holiday and Angels and Demons. The Cremeria Monteforte where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck meet Eddie Albert is still there and according to some has the best gelato in Rome.
How to Find the Pantheon – Hours, Directions & Location
The address of the Pantheon in Rome is the Piazza della Rotonda, it is straight down the Via del Salvatore. The Pantheon is open from 9 until 6:30 Monday through Saturday during the season. From July through September the Pantheon is open from 9 until 6 and from 9 until 4:30 October through March.
On Sunday and public holidays the Pantheon is open from 9 until 1. The Pantheon is closed on January 1, May 1, August 15, December 25 and December 16.
Admission is free.
Here is a map to help you find directions.