The Pantheon is one of the most impressive of all of Rome’s ancient sights. Standing in Piazza della Rotonda, in the middle of the historic center of the city, it is one of the only ancient buildings that still takes its place as an integral part of the crowded city streets, giving you a feel for how it must have been to walk among the temples and public buildings of the ancient city.
Key Pantheon details
Address: Piazza della Rotonda
Opening hours: 8.30am – 7.30pm
Nearest Metro: Spagna
The good news is that you do not need a ticket for the Pantheon. It’s a church, and entrance is free! Not only that, but there are rarely any major lines to get in. However, for a very low cost you can have a short “loop” tour of the edifice with a specialist guide.
Crowds pour in the door fairly swiftly, swirl gently around the interior space, and exit swiftly too.
Bear in mind that it is a place of worship so please treat the interior with respect – there are guards within to enforce this – and note that occasionally it may be shut for religious ceremonies.
Once inside, marvel at the vast domed roof. Gaze up to see the Oculus: the eye in the roof of the temple of all gods, gazing up to heaven from a cast concrete dome that has withstood earthquakes and storms and wars for nearly 2,000 years.
There’s a hole in the roof. Doesn’t it get wet when it rains?
Of course, it does! But the genius engineers who built that dome also built drains in the marble floor, way below the hole. It leaks by design.
This is also one of the only buildings in Rome in which the original marble interior is largely still intact, thanks to it having been in ceremonial use since the fall of Rome, and only the external marble and bronze having been raided for other purposes. The quality of the original marblework is astounding.
Originally a temple to “all the gods” (pan being Greek for ‘all’, and theos being Greek for ‘gods’), it was originally a wooden structure built before the birth of Christ by the consul Marcus Agrippa, but it was burned completely in the great fire of Rome. It was rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian two hundred years later in stone, brick, marble, and concrete in the exact form we admire today – but note it has Agrippa’s name still emblazoned on the front as a tribute (an early example of a corporate logo?).
The building was turned into a Christian church in the 7th century, and as a result survived many of the ‘repurposing’ of materials for other buildings (usually other churches), though the bronzework on its portico was raided to produce the uncharacteristically ugly Bernini altar that currently stands in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica.
As an important church, in the nineteenth century it also became the resting place for Italy’s short-lived royal family, and also houses the tomb of the artist Rafael.
Every year at Pentecost commandos from the Italian military crawl up the roof to drop rose petals down through the Oculus, filling the church with the fluttering of angels’ wings.