The Pantheon is quite simply one of the most fascinating buildings in the world.
It’s the greatest example of Rome’s past glory (save perhaps the Colosseum) but it’s also the most well preserved, truly unique, and an ancient engineering marvel.
2000 years later it still has the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
Here’s everything you need to know about this terrific temple.
Not plugging this right into a top Rome itinerary is criminal.
Why? let’s start with its antiquity.
The original inscription on the tympanum (the big triangle over the main facade) still bears the name of Marcus Agrippa: the emperor who commissioned the first Pantheon in 27 BC.
What’s left today though is the dome built for the emperor Hadrian.
Between 118 and 125 AD Hadrian ordered the entire reconstruction of the building after it had been damaged by fire.
The emperor’s plan? Make it even more majestic and imposing than before.
The etymology of the name Pantheon (ancient greek pan for ‘all’ and theon for ‘god’) suggests that the building was meant as a temple dedicated to all gods.
At the end of the Roman Empire though it was turned it into a Christian church and re-named Santa Maria ad Martyres.
Given how unique and impressive the Pantheon is it’s not surprising that is was later chosen as the burial place of the Italian royal family.
To this day the Pantheon has tombs of Vittorio Emanuele II, Umberto I, and Margherita of Savoy.
The impression I get when stepping inside the Pantheon is hard to describe, but definitely worth putting up with big crowds of sweaty tourists and dripping gelatos.
Aside from the Colosseum and the Vatican this is as awe-inspiring as it gets.
Just elbow your way past the portico (with its 18 pink and gray granite columns) and through the 7 meter high bronze super door, and enter a gigantic circular room so perfectly designed that it could fit a 43.3 m (142 ft) diameter globe in the center.
The height to the oculus (centre) and the diameter of the circle are the same (43 meters, 142 feet).
Here you get a surprising sense of emptiness. It’s easy to feel small compared to such a big, imposing space meant for matching the magnificence of the gods it was dedicated to.
You’ll also see the aforementioned royal tombs, though one of the most popular is of one of the greatest Italian Renaissance artists: Rafael.
Architects will tell you it’s almost impossible to build a dome of this magnitude (4,535 metric tons) without reinforced concrete.
Yet here we are in front at that famous dome in Rome – mesmerized.
Looking upwards you’ll see five concentric circles with a coffered decoration visually lightening the roof so you won’t have the impression it may just collapse on you and end your holiday!
Each of the five circles is decorated with precisely 28 encarved panels: a number symbolizing perfection because it’s a whole number whose summed factors equal it (thus, 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14 = 28).
The roof is made of unreinforced concrete in the most peripheral parts and progressively lighter materials toward the centre to ensure stability and prevent the dome from collapsing.
Until 1600 the dome was entirely covered in gilded bronze tiles which were subsequently removed, melted, and used to decorate Saint Peter’s church.
The only source of natural light inside the dome is a circular hole right in the middle of the roof called called an oculus. If you’re there during the day (say between 11 am and 1 pm) you’ll catch a beautiful stream of sunlight coming in.
Unusual as it sounds, a rainy or snowy day is also perfect for a visit since Roman architects devised a drainage solution: if you take a good look at the majestic marble floor you’ll see little holes to drain away the water.
How to Get There
You can also get here by bus number 30, 70, 81, 87, 492 and 628 getting off at Rinascimento.
At the moment entrance fee to the Pantheon is free.
A €2.00 per person fee has been announced and is to be implemented shortly, so hurry!
- Monday to Saturday: 8:30 am – 7:30 pm
- Sunday: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
- Holidays: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
- Closed on 1st of January, 1st of May, and 25th of December
Expect big crowds between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm especially on weekends. Early morning is the best time to visit as it tends to be much less crowded.
FYI: Last admission is 15 minutes before closing time.
Mass at the Pantheon
Mass has been celebrated here for over 1400 years so for those of faith this is a great chance to worship and be a part of history.
The schedule is as follows:
- Saturday and days before holidays: 5:00 pm
- Sunday and holidays: 10:30 am
Entrance is free so expect very big crowds as a result. Try and go as early as possible in the morning to avoid them.
Also keep in mind this is a functioning church so visitors are expected to wear appropriate attire: no sleeveless shirts, bare shoulders, short skirts, or any type of beach wear.
Pentecost at the Pantheon
If you happen to be in Rome for the Pentecost (50 days after Easter) you can witness a beautiful old tradition here: the rose petal shower (la pioggia dei petali in Italian).
Every year on this day at the end of a morning mass thousands of red rose petals are poured into the church through the oculus covering the whole floor.
The rain-like effect is breathtaking.
Red petals have a strong symbolic meaning as they represent the blood of Jesus Christ and the holy spirit descending onto the apostles.
If you plan on attending the ceremony make sure to get there with plenty of time because it is a very popular event and admission to the church stops once it reaches a certain number of people.
Where to Eat in the Area
Sitting at one of the restaurant terraces on Piazza della Rotonda is an easy shout – it’s scenic as all hell and some of the workers are quite convincing.
Just keep in mind you’re in tourist trap hell.
I always head just behind the Pantheon for a classic Roman trattoria called Da Armando al Pantheon. The food quality is top for the area and the prices aren’t teeth pulling.
You can also walk a few minutes to Piazza di Pietra.
There are some great options here like Salotto 42: a classy and cosy restaurant and cocktail bar that offers a tasty fixed-price buffet lunch.
Here you’ll also find Enoteca Spiriti and its refined approach to Italian classics and a wine list that would take you years to go through.
Gelateria della Palma has 150 flavors of homemade ice cream.
The lines get pretty long, but you may need that much time to decide! Della Palma also has a wide selection of vegan, gluten-free and sugar free flavors.
Giolitti is one of the oldest gelaterias in the city (open since 1900) also offering a huge variety of mouthwatering gelato and other ice cream desserts .
Looking for a caffeine top up? Head to La Tazza d’Oro just off Pantheon Square. It’s a coffee shop and roaster with fine quality caffè and even better coffee-flavored granita.
A tip? In Italian nobody really uses the word espresso so just say caffe.
Around The Pantheon
Just behind the Pantheon there’s another delightful little square called Piazza della Minerva.
The elephant-shaped obelisk here was created by sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Behind the obelisk there is the only Gothic church in Rome: Santa Maria Sopra Minerva definitely worth a quick visit.
Walking toward Piazza Navona you’ll find one of Rome’s most beautiful churches: the Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza. It was signed by seventeenth-century architect Francesco Borromini.
Its spiral-shaped dome is really something to see.
There’s also Sant Ignazio Church which is especially interesting for its interior: an illusionary roof painting that tricks your eyes and makes you feel like you’re inside a dome.
Two more churches Sant Agostino and San Luigi dei Francesi are also close, and both deserve attention for having some legendary Caravaggio works.
Three paintings of Saint Matthew are housed at San Luigi while Madonna of Loretto or Pilgrim’s Madonna can be admired at Sant’Agostino.
Entrance to both the churches is free.
You’ll also be close to Monte Citorio: home of the Chamber of Deputies which beside being a historic building has a large solar obelisk, used as a sundial which can still be seen on the pavement
Football enthusiast? Then drop by the A.S. Roma Team Shop at Piazza Colonna.
How do I get Pantheon tickets?
It is completely free to visit and no tickets are required. While there will eventually be a fee introduced it has not been as of Oct 2nd 2019.
Is there a dress code for the Pantheon?
Visitors are expected to observe a sensible dress code as with any church: no bare shoulders, beach wear, or anything revealing or overtly offensive/political.
When was the Pantheon built?
The current building was completed between the years 113-251 AD.
Who built the Pantheon?
The Pantheon was built by architecture enthusiast Emperor Hadrian with the help of famed Greek architect Apollodorus of Damascus. The architect was unfortunately executed after criticising the emperor’s architectural endeavors.
Where is the Pantheon?
It is found in central Rome in a square called Piazza della Rotonda.
Why was the Pantheon built?
The original purpose of the building was as a place of worship for Roman gods.
Who is buried in the Pantheon?
Among the most famous tenants are the painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, composer Arcangelo Corelli, and architect Baldassare Peruzzi.
There are also royals Margherita of Savoy, Victor Emmanuel II, and Umberto I.
What is the Pantheon made of?
It is made of concrete and covered with a brick façade.
What is the Pantheon inscription?
The inscription M. AGRIPPA. L. COS. TERTIVM. FECIT. refers to an old Roman consul named Marcus Agrippa and acknowledges him as the builder.
This original temple was destroyed by fire though after its rebuilding Emperor Hadrian decided to keep the old inscription instead of adding his name, to maintain historial consistency.
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