The original purpose of the Pantheon temple was to honor all the Gods of Ancient Rome. The time was long before the Catholic Church made Rome its headquarters and the people practice a pagan religion similar to the Greeks. Marcus Agrippa commissioned the temple’s construction under the rule of Caesar Augustus in 27 AD. Inscriptions on the frieze of the porch (surrounded by columns) record the facts of the original construction and then mention two reconstructions. The Pantheon was rebuilt for the first time in 202 AD by Severus and Caracalla. The Roman emperor Hadrian had the temple rebuilt a second time in about 126 AD. Many think that the Greek architect was Apollodorus of Damascus from Syria. The architecture is an example of classic Roman-Greco, but, on the other hand, the Pantheon is truly Roman. The temple is ornate and bigger than life. It was a building the represented the power of Hadrian and the power of the Roman Empire. The temple was built with many unique features including the huge dome put in place during the rebuilding under Hadrian; the largest dome ever built for over 1000 years. (Ballantyne 68) The history of the Pantheon has been discussed, with a focus on the structures used in the design as well as the historical uses of the temple.
Eight Corinthian columns, octastyle, stand at the front entrance, when the norm was six columns, hexastyle, for entrances. Columns at the entrance were not unusual for the time, but Greeks used Doric columns that usually surrounded the temples. The columns of the Pantheon are made for granite because, unlike in Greece, marble was not as easily accessible. The Pantheon was most impressive in terms of its large size, the “unexpected and spectacular” interior with a huge domed ceiling is 143 feet high and the diameter of the circular part of the temples interior is 143 feet, giving the domed section of the temple a 1:1 ratio. (Fischer) The oculus, a circular opening in the ceiling provided the lighting. Two large bronze doors offer the entrance and exit to the interior. On either side of the entrance statues were place in two niches.
The impressive portico of the Pantheon design was created by its square shape, large size and column and pediment combination. The portico is perfectly symmetrical and uses a classis design of three rows of Corinthian-style columns. A contrast is made in the lines by placing a triangular pediment at the top. The original idea was borrowed from small structures working as weather stations on the Greek “Tower of the Winds build around 48 BC” (Smith 64). The structures were miniature distyle (di means two; style means stylos or coloum= proticos. Distyle is a compound word made from di meaning two, stylos meaning column. Anta, a pilaster is the third part of the structure, a rectangular projection (like a narrow flat column) from a wall between two columns. Figure one is the simplest distyle used in ancient temples.
Figure 1 Temple in Antis (Source: Cline n.d.)
Figure 2 The portico of the Panthon (Source: Saiko 2012)
Concrete was a new invention by the time the Pantheon was rebuilt during the 2nd century AD. The Greek form of arches was used, but the Romans expanded the arch around 360 degrees so a dome was formed. Using concrete and borrowing the basic ideas from “vault construction from Western Asia gave the Romans the capability to cover so much interior space with a domed ceiling. (“Architecture” 2013) The temple walls are constructed from brick with “a great hemispherical dome whose supporting walls was set in concrete” (“Pantheon” 2013). The general layout was based on a circle within a square, the dome rested on a circular drum. (Kilde 102; Grupica)
Concrete has many advantages because it can be formed to fit different shapes, the materials to make it are easy to find, and it is a sturdy, long-lasting material. The main structural problem with concrete is that it weighs so much. To lessen the load the Romans coffered the visible surface with designs. The recessed rectangles decorating the ceiling in the dome are not only to be aesthetically pleasing, the practical reason the ceiling is shaped that way is remove as much concrete as possible. Pockets of air were constructed into the dome by including vases and jugs inside the dome’s structure so they could not be seen.
The earliest example of an earthly space where worshippers gathered under heaven was the the “tent-canopy” (Grupico). The circle or the “eye of God” from where light entered at the top of the Roman Pantheon’s dome “was associated with the heavens in both the Hellenistic-Roman and Ancient Persian worlds” (Grupico).
The layout of ancient temples enhances a worshipper’s religious experience in the same way a Christian church does. A person orients themselves because they can identify the front and the back walls. In ancient times a statue of a God would be at the back wall facing outwards through the worship area and the doors at the front as if viewing the outdoors. This is the special axis where people can feel something special. When we stand on the axis we become excited in “a thrill of connection between our own directions and those of the god” (Unwin 138) The dominant axis has power because crossing the axis in front of the altar “prompts the practice of nodding reverentially” towards the altar in a church or Buddhist shrine (Unwin 138). In the Pantheon the same thing occurred in the ancient temple because the power axis was the middle of the circular space created by the dome. The light from the top of dome shining down emphasized the power of that spot.
The first use of the temple was to honor all the Roman gods, so statues of Venus, Mars and the other gods were given places of honor in the temple. Niches were created to hold the statues in the walls behind the Corinthian columns in the interior of the temple. The Pantheon is also the place where the tombs of some Italian kings can be found. The tomb of the great artists Raphael and Carracci are also found there with the tombs of composer Corellina as well as the architect Peruzzi.
The temple was destroyed twice, but it was rebuilt by Hadrian so today everyone can enjoy the architecture 2,000 years later. The reconstruction to advantage of ideas from Western Asia for domes and vaults and arches from Greece adding special features to make the Pantheon a reflection of the greatness of the Roman Empire. The temple is became a Catholic church dedicated to Saint Maria dei Maritiri in 609 AD.
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Cline, Austin. “Comparison of Greek Temples” About.com. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blgrk_temples02.htm
Fischer, Judy C. “Pantheon (Rome, Italy)” Fischer Art History. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. http://www.fischerarthistory.com/pantheon.html
Grupico, Theresa. "The Dome in Christian and Islamic Sacred Architecture."Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table (2011). Questia. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.
Kilde, Jeanne Halgren. Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture and Worship. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Questia. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.
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