The 17 Fascinating Pantheon (in Rome Facts) You Never Knew!

Spread the love

The Pantheon in Rome isn’t your average ancient temple – it’s a mind-blowing masterpiece of Roman brilliance and one of the best-preserved structures from those ancient glory days. Despite its fame, many folks are clueless about its history and architecture. So, how much do you really know about this architectural marvel? Brace yourself for some jaw-dropping Pantheon facts that will absolutely blow your mind.

What is the Pantheon?

Today, the Pantheon stands as a striking reminder of the architecture of the great Roman Empire, making it one of the city’s top attractions.

 

17 Fascinating facts about the Pantheon that will amaze you!

 

1. What is the Pantheon?

The Pantheon might sound straight out of Greek mythology, and that’s because it does have Greek roots. It’s a combination of Greek words – “pan” meaning “all”, and “theon” signifying “gods.” So, when you put them together, you’ve got a fancy name for a place dedicated to all gods.

Rome Pantheon

Originally it was believed to serve as a temple honouring the Ancient Roman gods. However, there is a bit of a question mark hanging over this because nobody’s quite certain which gods were honoured here. Perhaps one day historians will crack the code and reveal the truth.

 

2. Built three times

A tale of 3 constructions

The Pantheon you see now is not the original Pantheon. According to the legend of the first Pantheon, this was the site where Rome’s founder, Romulus (one of the sons of a human mother and the god of war, Mars), ascended to heaven.

 

Let us tell you a tale of three constructions. The Pantheon wasn’t just built once and left alone to enjoy its glory. The temple you see today is actually the third building constructed on the same site.

 

First version

Most historians claim that Marcus Agrippa, a Roman general and architect who was the son-in-law of the Roman emperor Augustus, erected the first structure between 27 and 25 BC. This wooden building only lasted about 100 years and burned to ground in AD 80.

 

Second version

The Roman emperor Domitian took a second shot, but it was also a classic fire victim and was wiped out in AD 110. Jupiter (Zeus) controlled lightning; it would likely signify he was unhappy with it or the Romans in general. At that time, these two incidents were very bad omens for Rome during an otherwise prosperous time. But, as they say, the third time’s a charm, right?

 

Third, current version

The recent evidence suggests that the emperor Trajan started the construction of a third, present version of the Pantheon. The Pantheon we can see today is the result of the radical reconstruction by Hadrian probably between 118 – 128 AD. Its construction date is, however, uncertain because he chose not to inscribe it. All we know is that Hadrian was passionate about architecture and used new engineering techniques. And boy, did he nail it!

 

3. Who designed the Pantheon?

Who designed the Pantheon?

Emperors wanted something grand, and for that, they couldn’t just draw a few sketches and hope for the best, right? Sadly, due to a lack of written records, nobody knows for sure who was the brain behind this beauty.

 

Many historians believe Trajan’s architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, is the obvious candidate. But this is only speculation because Hadrian executed this famous architect a few years after he became emperor. Why, you may ask? It was because of some argument about the temple design they had before.

 

4. The inscription

Pantheon inscription

The only remains from the original temple.

 

Before you step into the Pantheon, don’t overlook the inscription at the entrance. This fine print is the original inscription to Marcus Agrippa (a general who built the Pantheon number 1). Why, do you ask? Because while the emperor Hadrian commissioned the rebuilding of the temple for the third time, he didn’t want to put his name on the structure he rebuilt.

What does this writing on the portico mean? Well, “M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT” it’s in Latin, and it roughly translates as Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucio, made (this building) when consul for the third time’’.

 

5. The Pantheon facts – Columns

Pantheon facts - Columns

Now, let’s talk about the impressive Corinthian columns from the Pantheon’s portico. These 16 columns, which support the arcade with the inscription, came from a Roman quarry in eastern Egypt. Each is 11.9 metres (39ft) tall and 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) in diameter. They are from one solid piece of stone and weigh an unbelievable 60 tons each!

 

A long journey

Imagine the long journey of these massive columns, which they had to take to become part of the Pantheon. First, they would have to drag them 100 km from Mons Claudianus quarry to the Nile River on wooden sledges. From there, they would float them down the Nile when the water level was high during the spring floods. After that, they would transport them to vessels, which would cross the Mediterranean Sea and eventually end in the Roman port of Ostia near Rome. From there, they would have to transfer them back on the flatboat and pull up the Tiber River to Rome. Once they got them to land near the Mausoleum of Augustus, they still would need to drag them about 700 metres away. Impressed yet? So, next time you are at the Pantheon, take a moment to appreciate these massive columns around you.

 

FUN FACT:

According to a local legend, touching the central column can bring good luck and heal a minor physical illness.

 

6. A religious chameleon of Rome

Pantheon inside

One of the most fascinating Pantheon facts is its survival. You might be asking what saved the Pantheon from destruction when the other ancient Roman sites are today in ruins. The answer is, in fact, very simple.

 

The Pagan temple has remained perfectly intact for almost 2,000 years because it decided to switch teams. The Pantheon became a Christian church in AD 609 and began its journey as the Church of Santa Maria Rotonda. Since then, the Church of St Mary and the Martyrs have been rocking these vibes for 1415 years.

 

Pantheon facts: One of the little-known Pantheon facts is that it was the first transformed Pagan temple into a church. The building exists in its original form, apart from a few things which disappeared over time.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

The Pantheon was the first transformed Pagan temple into a church. The building exists in its original form, apart from a few things which disappeared over time.

 

7. Donkey’s ears

One of the little-known Pantheon facts is that this Roman temple once had bell towers. During the Middle Ages, Pope Urban VIII decided to add two bell towers to the Pantheon. Why, do you ask? The head of the Catholic Church and the Papal state wanted to give the Pantheon more of a church-like look.

Here is an interesting detail: They no longer grace the skyline today because of the negative reactions from the public. The bell towers on either side of the Pantheon’s facade were stylistically different from the rest of the building. Soon, people began calling them donkey’s ears. That’s why they removed them in the late 19th century.

 

8. Bronze doors

Pantheon facts: One of the surprising Pantheon facts is its monumental bronze doors because they aren't just an ordinary entrance but the oldest door in Rome. Not only is this ancient Roman gate original, but it is also the only remaining door of its kind in its original location.

When you step into the Pantheon, don’t overlook its massive double doors at the front entrance. They are 4.45 metres (14.6 ft) wide, 7.53 metres (24.7 ft) high and weigh a whopping 20 tonnes each.

 

Pantheon Facts - Its monumental bronze doors aren't just an ordinary entrance but the oldest door in Rome.

Even though they are very heavy, they are well-balanced and easy to open.

 

And here is a fascinating secret: These monumental bronze doors aren’t just an ordinary entrance but the oldest doors in Rome. For many years, historians thought they were a 15th-century replacement of the original gate. Why, do you ask? Mainly because many architects believed they were too small for the door frames. But recent analysis confirmed they are original.

Not only is this ancient Roman gate original, but it is also the only remaining door of its kind in its original location. You see, back in the day, it was usual practice to repurpose ancient Roman doors. But these have remained here from the time of the building of the Pantheon.

 

FUN FACT:

Did you know the Pantheon door is one of the only two doors in the world with a 2,000-year-old lock still in operation?

 

9. Bronze to Lead

Pantheon facts: Bronze to Lead

Here’s the fun twist: The Pantheon’s massive dome once sparkled in the sunlight. However, in July 663, the Byzantine king Constans II nicked most of the bronze and took it away to Constantinople.

 

And according to a local legend, Pope Urban VIII completed the job over a millennium later, in 1625. This pope, who belonged to the Barberini family, ordered the bronze ceiling of the Pantheon’s portico to be melted down. Why did he do that? To construct cannons for the fortification of Castle Sant’ Angelo in the Vatican and other projects around Rome. Since then, there has been a saying: What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did”. This phrase refers to the barbarians who sacked Rome and took most of its wealth.

 

The Pantheon facts - Some even say Bernini used bronze for his famous baldachin, which lies above the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Pantheon facts: Some even say Bernini used bronze for his famous baldachin, which lies above the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

No time to read now? Save the surprising Pantheon facts to read later.

Pantheon facts. Pantheon Rome facts

 

10. The Pantheon facts – a geometric wonder

Did you know that you could fit ideally a sphere 43.3 metres (142 ft) in diameter inside? These perfect dimensions would touch the ceiling, floor and the walls.

Romans inherited the Greek standards of symmetry, harmony and space.

 

The Pantheon wasn’t just another Pagan temple; this architectural marvel made other buildings green with envy. This former Roman place of worship is, in fact, a geometric wonder with perfect dimensions.

Did you know that you could fit ideally a sphere 43.3 metres (142 ft) in diameter inside?

Here is something cool: Did you know that you could fit ideally a sphere 43.3 metres (142 ft) in diameter inside the Pantheon? These perfect dimensions would touch the ceiling, floor and the walls. It’s because the height of the floor to the oculus and also the diameter of the round interior are exactly the same.

11. Record-breaking dome

The Pantheon facts: One of the most mind-blowing Pantheon facts is that its 1,899-year-old dome was the largest in the world for 1,300 years.

The Pantheon’s dome is the most remarkable feature. Why, do you ask? Well, it’s because this 1,899-year-old dome was the largest in the world for 1,300 years. The Pantheon passed the title to the Florence Cathedral only in the 15th century. Brunelleschi built the dome for the Duomo with an interior diameter of 45.5 (149 ft) after studying the Pantheon for inspiration. Today, the Singapore National Stadium holds the record of the largest dome in the world. Nowadays, the Rome’s Pantheon holds the 15th place.

Brunelleschi built the dome for the Duomo with an interior diameter of 45.5 (149 ft) after studying the ancient Pagan temple in Rome for inspiration.

The Pantheon held the record until Brunelleschi designed an impressive dome crowning the Florence Cathedral in the 15th century.

 

Want another record? The dome of the Pantheon is still the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. This architectural masterpiece is a true work of genius, made of concrete that does not have a frame to stand on. If this doesn’t impress you, then nothing will.

 

12. A work of genius

The dome weighs 4,535 tonnes, and the Romans used a genius construction system.

The Pantheon’s dome weighs 4,535 tonnes.

 

Now, let’s talk a little about the building materials of the dome. The Pantheon’s dome uses a genius construction system. The Roman engineers lighted the dome as much as possible. The thickness of the dome progressively decreases from 6.4 metres at the base to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) around the oculus. Archaeologists also found out they used lighter and lighter materials in the cement the higher up they got. 

 

The concrete of the dome’s lower section contains travertine, then terracotta tiles. At the very top, they used tufa and other porous light stones. And here is where it gets interesting: at the very top, where the dome would be the weakest and vulnerable to collapse, they lightened the load with the central hole. Fancy, right? That’s why the Pantheon’s dome still stands tall and proud almost after 2,000 years.

 

How did they do it?

How did they do it?

Nobody knows how the Romans laid the concrete. Some theories propose the use of scaffolding, while others suggest they filled the entire building with sand from Ostia. Others are under the impression that they filled the Pantheon with earth mixed with gold and coins. Once they finished the work on the dome, they told the Romans to take away the soil and keep the gold coins. But hey, whatever they did, they nailed it, didn’t they?

 

13. The ceiling and its hole in the dome

The ceiling of the dome is another curiosity of the Pantheon. Once you look up, you will spot the coffered ceiling and the oculus 7.8 meters in diameter. This hole in the dome is the most impressive thing in the ceiling. Together with the doors, they are the only sources of light and ventilation.

Pantheon facts: One of the fascinating Pantheon facts is that the oculus at the top of the dome, which has 7.8 meters in diameter. This hole in the dome is never covered, and rain and snow occasionally fall through it on the floor.

Here is where it gets juicy: the oculus at the top of the dome is never covered, and rain and snow occasionally fall through it on the floor. So what happens when it rains in the Pantheon?

 

The Romans were very clever; they equipped the interior floor with a drainage system. When you look down onto the floor, you can see that the floor just gently slopes to the sides. That’s why the Pantheon’s interior remains relatively dry even during the heavy rainfall. According to our guide, the sloped marble floor has an incline of about 30 cm (12 in). That allows rainfall to run off after it comes in.

 

Coffered ceiling

Coffered ceiling

But there is something else interesting about the ceiling. The coffered ceiling would have been decorated with bronze decorations (they say rosettes). But Pope Urban VIII decided to strip them away. He used the materials for other things, including the cannons and the Bernini’s canopy over the altarpiece of St. Peter’s Basilica.

 

14. The Pantheon facts – Sundial effect

As you already know, the oculus in the centre of the dome is the main source of light. When you are inside the Pantheon on a sunny day, you can see a large disc of light. Throughout the day, the ray of light that enters through the hole moves around the space.

 

Pantheon facts - it's a solar temple

Here is a juicy part: Did you know the Pantheon in Rome is like a solar temple? There is a clever lighting trick, which you can see every year on April 21, the founding date of Rome. At midday, the sunlight fills the entrance with light coming from the inside of the temple. This is when the emperor would stand at the entrance surrounded by light. Because of this effect, the Romans would raise their emperor to the level of the god on earth.

 

15. The final resting place for the kings and artists

The Pantheon facts - Did you know that, since the Renaissance period, the Pantheon has served as a significant burial site?

The Pantheon facts: Did you know that, since the Renaissance period, the Pantheon has served as a significant burial site?

 

Yes, that’s right, the Pantheon is the final resting site for some pretty important figures. We’ve got here the burial place of Vittorio Emmanuele II – he was the first king of a united Italy. There is also a tomb of his son, Umberto I, who rests in peace, alongside his wife, Queen Margarita of Savoy. Margarita is the one who actually gave her name to the local delicacy in Naples – Margarita Pizza.

But wait, there is more! Along those buried, there are also famous painters, including Raphael. He was one of the greatest painters of all history but died at a young age when he was only 37.

 

Pantheon facts - The Pantheon is the final resting site of the famous painters, including Raphael. He was one of the greatest painters of all history but died at a young age when he was only 37.

The tomb of Raphael

 

16. Inspired others

The Pantheon in Rome has influenced numerous architects and also designers. Michelangelo said the Pantheon was the design of angels, not of man. When he worked on the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, he also took his inspiration from the Pantheon.

This unique building also inspired Brunelleschi’s dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence and countless architects in Western architecture. Other famous buildings modelled after the Pantheon in Rome are the Pantheon in Paris and the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

This unique building also inspired Brunelleschi’s dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence and countless architects in Western architecture. Other famous buildings modelled after the Pantheon in Rome are the Pantheon in Paris and the U.S. Capitol in Washington. And let’s not forget about the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art, also in Washington.

 

17. The area in the Pantheon in the past

The Pantheon as we know it today lies on the beautiful Piazza della Rotonda, but it was not always like that. Originally, the area wasn’t so open. A large fountain did not exist, and the obelisk of Ramses II was also missing. Pope Pius VII ordered the demolition of filthy shops, inns, and taverns. He also removed smelly stalls with birds and cages on display that filled the square with filth and odours. Later, Pope Pius IX banned vendors and demolished buildings close to the Pantheon.

area in the past

And here is where it gets interesting: The ground was much lower during the Roman period. Imagine walking up a large row of marble steps to get inside this Pagan temple. There were also two massive statues of Emperor Augustus and Marcus Agrippa – one on each side of the main entrance. Sadly, we cannot see the stairs now because they are under the square. But wait, there is more!

 

Did you know there were once the long walls of the courtyard on all three sides leading up to the Pantheon? There was even a memorial arch called the Arch of Piety in front of the Pantheon. Moreover, you can also see the remains of a temple dedicated to Neptune (connected to the back of the Pantheon).

 

Useful information about the Pantheon

useful information

  • The Pantheon in Rome is open for tourists daily, except on 15th August 2024, 25th December 2024 and 1st January 2025. The Pantheon opens at 9 am, and the last entry is at 6.45 pm as of April 2024. Remember that you cannot explore it during masses – on Saturday at 5 pm and during holidays at 10.30 am).
  • Don’t forget that from 3 July 2023, you must buy entry tickets to visit the Pantheon. The Entry tickets for adults to the Pantheon start from €5, and students between 18 and 25 pay €3 as of April 2024. Under 18, worshippers and residents of Rome may visit the Pantheon for free, but they still need to get a ticket.
  • The nearest metro station is Barberini (Line A) – it’s about 700 metres away from the Pantheon.

 

TIP:

Did you know that you can visit the Pantheon in Rome for free on the first Sunday of each month?

 

Now you know 17 surprising facts about the Pantheon!

 Pantheon facts

Pin 17 fascinating facts about the Pantheon for later!

 

Have you ever visited the Pantheon in Rome? Which fun fact about the Pantheon surprised you the most? Let us know in the comments below!

 

free travel planner for travel to Rome

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:

top attractions in Rome Italy. Landmarks in Rome

best piazzas in Italy


Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *