Friday, November 09, 2007

The cat-free Pantheon

I know you just want pictures of cats, but I want to post about the Pantheon, so bear with me.

We went twice. It is really astonishing – amazing – to stand in a complete building that was constructed 2000 years ago. It makes one realise that all the other buildings in Rome that are now in ruins didn’t really fall down by themselves; they were taken down by later builders. Recycling, I suppose. In the Pantheon’s case, having been built as a temple for all the gods, it was then taken over as a church in the 6th century, which presumably preserved it.

From the outside it looks quite unimpressive: a big round building made of chewed-looking bricks, grimy after a couple of millennia of exposure to smoky city life. It once had marble on the outside, but this was pinched; some time ago, I imagine. At the front, there’s rather incongruous-looking but very large portico, which hides the rest of the building. But once you go inside – you just stand there, open-mouthed, you and another thousand or so tourists. A thousand people say “Wow!” in forty different languages as they gaze around and above.
The Pantheon is HUGE. I mean COLOSSAL. It’s 142 feet (43.3 metres) in diameter and the same 142 feet to the top of its enormous dome. The dome is made of concrete, with recessed panels in circles, decreasing in size towards the top. These panels are very decorative but also reduce the weight of the dome, which means that it doesn’t collapse. I have to confess that, being a person who likes to consider all eventualities, I did wonder whether it was a good idea to spend such a long time under a huge, ancient, very heavy concrete dome. After all, it has to fall down some time. But then, what a way to go! “My mother died in the great Pantheon disaster.” Beats saying, “My mother died when a pig fell on her head”, doesn’t it?
The Pantheon still holds the record for the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the history of architecture. And it was built – did I mention this? 2000 years ago. 2000 years! What were British people building 2000 years ago? Quite. (Well, Stonehenge, possibly. But it’s a bit rough and ready compared to the Pantheon.)
The whole building is lit by a big hole at the top of the dome – the oculus – which is 30 feet (9 metres) across. This means, of course, that when it rains, water comes in (much like in our hall) but the floor is slightly convex so that it flows towards the outside walls, where there are drains. Unlike our hall.

How on earth did anyone that long ago design and build something so enormous, so intricately calculated, so durable? It’s also very beautiful. It’s lined with marble of various colours – I think there’s been some restoration, but this just means that you can really imagine being there as an Ancient Roman worshipping in this enormous space.
Well, thanks for reading this far. I realise that you’ve probably all been to Rome and seen it for yourselves, but if not – go. It’s big. It’s free. You need to see it. Twice.


  1. Are you anticipating a pig falling on your head Isabelle?

    I still reckon that gives your kids something interesting to say after your demise.

    It certainly would make them interesting dinner party guests!

    Oh, nice photos BTW! :)

  2. I'm curious. Did you feel any sense of human continuity or connection with people from the past when you visited the Pantheon?

  3. you know to my shame I never saw the inside of either the Colloseum (wrong spelling I know) or the Pantheon, but I did see the Vatican and the chapel with the famous ceiling that I can not spell today.

  4. Lovely post Isabelle, and made me want to visit the Pantheon (we didn't go when I was in Rome as a child. We did feed pizza to cats though)But the image of someone dying from pig impact cracked me up!

  5. I have never been there. Thanks for showing me

  6. Personally, I think having a pig fall on my head and then leaving the planet is a pretty interesting way to go!

    This is a great post! I love your sense of humor, too!!

  7. ohhhh that all looks so darn fabulous :)

  8. Which just goes to show that we're not as advanced as we think we are. What is being built today that will still be standing 2000 years from now? How clever of them to design the floor so that the rain would drain away.Obviously the people who constructed the area around our pool didn't have the benefit of Roman architecture lessons. They made it so the rain drains away from the pool but they neglected to give it somewhere to go. So it reaches the wall and sits and turns black and slimy...
    Haven't been to Rome...enjoyed the vicarious visit!

  9. You're so funny Isabelle! I've never been to Rome and never really thought I'd like to go, but now I see the error of my ways. Thanks for showing me! Clearly, the dome didn't fall in on you, so .... watch out for flying pigs!

  10. Isabelle, thank you for another wonderful post. I've never been to Europe, let alone Rome, and not likely to now, but I love hearing about all the ancient stuff that has survived for thousands of years on the Continent. Nothing like that here, apart from Aboriginal art, which is very special to us here of course, but no massive structures like the Pantheon or even StoneHenge!
    My last post on Patra's Other Place includes a warning for you relating to the cats...go see!

  11. Having never been to Rome, I found this very interesting.
    The idea of one of my juggled flying pigs, however, filled me with trepidation, lest it fall on someone!
    Perhaps I will just let flying pigs lie....

  12. I know the feeling of awe when you look and see just what was being built centuries or millennia ago. Awe-inspiring is the only appropriate word!

  13. And just think... no cranes and no Health and Safety issues!

  14. I was quite enjoying your travelogue about the Pantheon but now my head is just swimming with images of pigs falling on unsuspecting mothers' heads.

    I've been there. I've seen it. It was big and it was free. And I do intend to visit it twice. Someday.

  15. I've never been there either, and these pictures are great.
    I think you'd probably get some warning if it was about to fall down, a big crack and some loose bits of masonry coming down first, then I bet you'd abandon your English politeness about forming an orderly queue and just run for it. Likewise if it were a pig you'd probably hear a squeal or a snort first...

  16. ENGLISH politeness, Lucy????

  17. Aarrgh, what a faux pas, never call a Scot English! I crave your forgiveness, and will raise an extra dram to my lips for you next Burns Night!
    Thanks for coming over and still speaking to me anyway!

  18. Whose mother had a pig fall on her head??
    MY mother once had a bottle of whisky on her head; on getting off a coach, one rolled from the luggage rack and practically knocked her out..

  19. I absolutely LOVE the pantheon, it seems to stand for so many things. And such a wonder of engineering skill. I thought your photos were very good, too. They look exactly like the textbook pictures I studied it from, with the light pouring in through the oculus. The hard thing is, though, that it is so difficult to capture the scale of the thing, and to imagine the thickness of the walls, and how amazing to still stand in there, as you say, without fear of it falling.
    Actually, I really love Rome, too. All of it, but I have especially fond thoughts of this building, which you have reminded me of here.
    If you could just pop over to Venice now, that would be great. I can visit, therefore, by proxy.
    cheers! x