Of all the ancient monuments in Rome, the Pantheon stands head and shoulders above the rest. At 2,000 years old, it's the only Roman building in Italy that's still intact and the only structure that has been in continual use since 27 AD. (Compare that to the Colosseum.) It's also is one of the most breathtaking sights in Rome.
Modern architects still marvel at its construction. Made entirely from pozzolana cement, without steel reinforcing rods to support the structure, the temple stands despite the fact that it's built on a marshland. Today it's popular not just as a tourist attraction, but also a venue for weddings! Here we list top fascinating facts about the Pantheon in Rome and also secret ways to beat the long lines at some of Rome's top attractions.
We like this walking tour because it's an easy and informative way to visit Rome's famous piazzas, ancient monuments, fountains, and artworks
It's a chance to see the best of Rome — the Pantheon, of course, but also Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. You can also opt to for a Colosseum and Roman Forum tour.
It's like traveling through time while admiring Rome's must-see art and architecture, all in a single day.
The highlight was the Pantheon, which, even though we'd seen before, we didn't appreciate the history and the superb architectural elements like the dome that make it inexplicable how ancients were able to build it. We also couldn't get over how, by design, the internal air circulation within the Pantheon prevents most rain from hitting the floor through the open hole in the top of the dome. Amazing!"
– 5-Star Review
We also like the intimacy and personal attention on this private tour, led by an art historian, that includes the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the art at Palazzo Altemps, and the Roman temples located at Largo Argentina.
In the center of the dome is the oculus — a large hole that brings a shaft of light to showcase the beauty of the simple, open interior.
When it rains, water falls to the floor below. The clever Romans put holes in the paving stones so the water could drain into the sewage system instead of flooding the interior. The oculus is big — about 9 meters (30 feet) in diameter.
Ancient Roman tradition required that the main entrance face north, and that's why the Pantheon is oriented on a north-south axis.
Look for Hadrian's large Latin lettering on the exterior horizontal moulding (called an entablature) — M AGRIPPA L F COS TERTIUM FECIT, which means "Built by Marcus Agrippa, the son of Lucius, third counsul." It's still a mystery why the egotistical Hadrian gave credit his predecessor. Some think he did so to reinforce his connection to Rome's ancient imperial line.
It's not hard to miss the 16 massive one-piece granite columns. Then, it's hard to imagine they were shipped from Egypt — floated by barge down the Nile River, across the Mediterranean sea, then up the Tiber River to Rome.
For something like 14 centuries, the Pantheon's dome was the biggest in Europe.
It wasn't until 1420 that a goldsmith named Brunelleschi built a bigger dome in Florence.
To analyze the material and its construction, Brunelleschi was allowed to cut into the Pantheon's dome. He discovered something amazing — the dome's concrete is thinner towards the top with the highest layer made of light volcanic pumice. This means that most of the weight on the dome is concentrated at its base.
In the 16th century, Michelangelo also studied the Pantheon's dome before he designed his dome for St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. His dome is two feet smaller in diameter.
Florence may have the biggest, but the Pantheon's dome is still the largest unreinforced dome in the world.
We don't really know her exact age but most historians today agree that the original Pantheon was built in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa to commemorate his victory over Marc Anthony and Cleopatra in Egypt.
The original Pantheon was burned and badly damaged in the great fire of 80 AD. Emperor Domitian rebuilt it in about 110 AD, but that version, too, was destroyed by fire when it was struck by lightning.
Seven years later, when Emperor Hadrian became Rome's ruler, he designed a new version inspired by Greek temples. Hadrian had a keen interest in all things ancient Greek — culture, literature, music, and especially architecture. He would create the most elaborate and celebrated building that Rome had yet seen!
The design of the Pantheon is based on classical Greek architecture with clean lines, elegant accents, and most importantly, built on a grand scale, with huge columns, monumental arches and a vast dome to showcase the skills of the architects and builders.
Until the 5th century, the Pantheon was a temple dedicated to all the Roman gods. In 609 AD Emperor Phocas donated it to Pope Boniface IV, who renamed it Santa Maria ad Martyres and dedicated it to the Madonna. It was the first pagan temple in Rome to be converted into a Catholic church.
The original bronze portico ceiling and beams were destroyed by Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family, who had it removed and melted down to make the sculptures in St Peter's at the Vatican. In Rome there is a saying, "What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did".
• Raphael, the artist
• King Vittorio Emmanuele II
• King Umberto I
• Queen Margherita (the pizza is named for her!)
• The Low Library at Columbia University
• British Museum Reading RoomI
• Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda at the University of Virginia
• The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia
• The Pantheon, Paris, France