Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mystery Photo 13: The Pantheon, Rome

     Did anyone guess this one?
     It is one of the most famous and best preserved ancient buildings in Rome. The Pantheon. The word means "Place of all the Gods". It was built originally in 27 BC by the Roman consul Agrippa. That structure, also a round building, was destroyed by fire in 80 AD, rebuilt by Dormitian , struck by lightning and again destroyed by fire in 110 AD. The Emperor Hadrian then oversaw a reconstruction, actually the third reconstruction of the building in 126 AD. Hadrian still kept the same lettering across the pediment of the Corinthian columned porch: M. AGRIPPA L.F.COS TERTIUM FECIT which means M. (Marcus) Agrippa, son of Lucius, three times consul, made it."  Agrippa was the son in law of the Emperor Augustus. 

     Many of the surrounding Roman antiquities are just ruins, but this building seems in perfect shape and is one of  the oldest continuous use buildings in the world. The columns were are granite brought from Egypt. Behind the deep colonnaded porch, there is a cylindrical building 43 meters in diameter capped by a hemisphere the apex of which is 43 meters from its floor. If the dome were taken off and tipped upside down it would fit perfectly inside the cylindrical base. The only light enters by its only opening other than its doors, which is the oculus, a 2.3 meter open air circle in the center of the dome. Very few Roman buildings had an oculus and this is the largest known. The sun or moon light coming in this opening would circle the room showing the magnificence of the cosmos. There is some controversy about the building's purpose. It was probably built as a temple and yet it is very different than the usual Roman Temple such as the Roman Forum. Some say it was built to Mars and Venus. Its name suggests that it was built to "all the Gods". However, some ancient writers said that that word meant that the dome suggested the heavens where all Gods live.  There was no dome as big until one in Florence was built in the 15th century. 
     The Romans appreciated the weight that this huge concrete dome would present to its base. Therefore they started with arches and niches in the cylindrical building that would help support the weight. The structure of the dome cement also contains circles and arches that support weight.  They also lessened the thickness of the dome as its walls became higher. In addition they used lighter and lighter material as the walls of the dome rose. Near the base they used travertine poured concrete. Higher up they began to add tufa rock to the mix. Then it became tufa and brick, then brick alone,and finally on the higher ceiling, pumice, the most porous material was used. Probably the dome was lined with gold leaf. The oculus still has its original bronze liner. The interior has been restored many times and is lined by marble at this time. 
     In 609, the Byzantine Emperor Phocas gifted the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it to a Christian church, consecrated it to Sancta Maria and the Martyrs, probably saving it for until the present. It is now known as Santa Maria dei Martiri. It is still used to celebrate the mass on special Catholic Church events.
     Over the generations it has also been used as a tomb. The Renaissance painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the composer Arcangello Corelli and the architect Baldassare Peruzzi are buried here. Also buried here are two kings of Italy: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto's Queen, Margherita. Italy has been a republic since 1946, volunteers members of Monarchist organizations still maintain a vigil over the royal tombs of the Pantheon . 


     The architectural structure of the building and its dome has influenced many later Western structures. The first was probably the Church: Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy, completed in 1436 with a dome 41 meters high. Note the photo here above, courtesy of Wikipedia, of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia designed by Thomas Jefferson. Many such Western city halls, libraries and university buildings repeat this symmetrical and monumental design. 

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