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Roman Pantheon Architecture

Roman Pantheon is one of the greatest achievements of the ancient Romans. The ancient Romans were good architects and they built numerous buildings and monuments. Some of the ancient Roman aqueducts are still in tact. Another marvelous example of a Roman architectural style is the Roman Coliseum. The Roman architectural styles have been borrowed by many of the western countries.

Brief History of the Roman Pantheon

The architecture of Pantheon, a monumental structure, is unique to Rome. In Latin and Greek, pantheon means “Temple of all the Gods”. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman military diplomat and general, built the original Pantheon in 27 BC. It was build to commemorate the victory of the Octavian army in the Battle of Actium that was fought on 2 September 31 BC. This battle was fought between the army of Octavian Caesar and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

The Pantheon built by Agrippa was completely destroyed in 80 AD when a fire broke out. The Roman Pantheon that is visited by many today was reconstructed in 125 AD by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Hadrian’s architects followed the exact design based on the inscriptions of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. The emperor gave the credit to Marcus Agrippa by inscribing “Made by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, in his third consulship” in the entrance of the Pantheon. Historians assume Pantheon was a place of worship because it housed all the gods and goddesses of the ancient Romans.

Facts about Roman Pantheon

The Pantheon of Rome is a marvelous example of ancient Roman architecture. This building has been in use for over 2000 years. The Roman Pantheon is famous for its design, size and its huge dome. The Roman Pantheon is a massive circular structure made with bricks. Corinthian-style columns support the gabled roof in the front. The most amazing feature of this monument is its huge concrete dome. The Pantheon dome was thought to be largest, until the recent times. The doors are made of bronze and are over 26 feet high. The doorway of the Pantheon is about 40 feet high and 20 feet wide.

A point worthy of mentioning is, the Greeks greatly influenced the Roman art and architecture. The hemispherical dome of this monument exhibits the charm and influence of Greek architecture and also the Greco-Roman idea of the “Cosmos”. There is an oculus in the center of the dome known as the “Great Eye”, which opens to the sky. The dome is intricately designed and decorated with bronze rosettes. The coffers of the dome were considered as the vault of the Heaven. The historians believe that the “Great Eye” symbolized that the Heavens guarded the entire Roman Empire.

The architectural harmony of this awe-inspiring structure is well balanced and it was achieved by keeping the diameter of the dome equivalent to its distance from the floor. The dome’s weight was greatly reduced by the sunken panels known as the coffers and by using cement made from pumice and pozzolanic ash (volcanic ash).

The total weight of the dome is approximately 4,535 metric tones. The weight of the upper part of the dome rests on the voussoirs (wedge-shaped stone edges) each measuring 30 ft in diameter. The lower part of the dome rests on eight-barrel vaults. The thickness of the dome at the base is around 21 feet and near the oculus it is approximately 1.2 meters. The distance between the dome base and the floor is 71 feet. The distance of the oculus from the floor is equivalent to the diameter of the dome, i.e. 142 feet. The diameter of the oculus is 7.8 meters.

Each column that supports the gabled roof weighs approximately 60 tons. The columns are 39 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter. These columns were made from stones that were quarried in Egypt. There are sixteen columns altogether in the portico. The “Great Eye” is the source of light and also serves as a ventilator. In case, snow or rain falls inside the Pantheon through the oculus, there are ducts that help in draining the water.

Phocas, the Byzantine Emperor presented the Roman Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV to save it from the destruction and pillage. In 609 AD, it was converted into the “Chiesa di Santa Maria ad Martyres”, a Catholic church. On special occasions, masses are held here. During Papal rule, it was used as a burial ground for kings and other famous people including painters who had embraced Christianity. The interiors of this great monument was done by Giovanni Paolo Panini between 1691-1765 AD. Pope Clement XI built the high altar and the apse (recess of the altar) in 1700 AD. Alessendro Specchi designed this altar. There are tombs of Raphael, the painter (died in 1520); King Victor Emmanuel II (died in 1878); King Umberto I (died in 1900); King Victor Emmanuel III (died in 1947); and many more in the Pantheon.

Some buildings constructed on the Roman Pantheon model are the The Rotunda – University of Virginia, Low Memorial Library – Columbia University, Grand Auditorium – Tsinghua University, Jefferson Memorial – Washington D.C. and Duomo – Florence.

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