Rome – Pantheon; pride of Rome

We can readily read the inscription, except the letter ” A ” and part of the letter ” G,” on the frieze of the portico – M. Agrippa L. F. Cos. Tertium Fecit – which informs us that the building was erected by Marcus Agrippa in his third consulate on this spot, 27 B. C. The building was consecrated as a temple to Mars and Venus and was filled with statues of gods, and also contained one of Julius Caesar. The original building, which was rectangular in shape, was burnt down in the year 8o, in the reign of Titus, and rebuilt by Domitian. It was again destroyed by fire in 110 in the reign of Trajan, but rebuilt by Hadrian in the year 120 A. D. Still, the columns, capitals and en-tablature of the portico with the inscription to which we have referred, belong to the original structure.

In 609, Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon as a Christian church and called it Santa Maria ad Mar-tyres, and to this circumstance alone is due the fact that it remains to the present day the best preserved monument of ancient Rome. It was to commemorate this dedication and to Christianize the name of the Pantheon (all gods) that the Pope instituted the Feast of All Saints, which occurs on the 1st of November each year. It is to be regretted that in 662 A. D. Constance II took off the greater part of the bronze tiles that covered the roof and intended to remove them to Constantinople, but they fell into the hands of the Saracens. Urban VII finished up this work of plunder by melting down the tiles that Con-stance had left for the twisted bronze columns of the High Altar of St. Peter’s. According to Lanciani it was used only for the guns of the Castle of St. Angelo.

As you see, the portico is supported by sixteen column, eight of which are in the front row, the earliest examples of the Corinthian order in Rome. All the columns are original and in the same position in which they were placed by the hand of Hadrian’s builders, except the three on our left. The extreme left-hand column in the front row was erected by Urban VIII in 1627, and contains his emblem, a Barberini bee on the capital. Each of these columns is composed of a single block of Egyptian granite, and is forty-six and one-half feet high and five feet in diameter. All but one of those in the front row are gray, the rest of the columns are red. The dimensions of the building are so harmonious, that they are deceptive, causing it to appear smaller than it really is, for in truth it is a building of considerable size. An idea of the exact size of the structure can best be obtained by comparing it with the five-story building seen first to the left; you cannot fail to notice how the dome of the Pantheon towers above them. The interior is a rotunda one hundred and forty-three feet in diameter; the portico is one hundred and ten feet long, and forty-four feet deep. On the left of the door as you enter the building is an inscription recording the fact that Urban VIII, in 1632, melted the remains of the bronze roof for the construction of the baldacchino on the High Altar at St. Peter’s, and that it was also made into cannon for the Castle of St. Angelo. About two hundred tons of bronze were removed from the roof of the Pantheon at that time. It is well that the plunderers left intact the bronze rim of the circular opening in the dome, otherwise the stability of the dome itself would have been imperiled. What a scene of indescribable magnificence this wonderful building must have presented to the eye with its freshly gleaming red and gray granite pillars and its pilasters and polished walls of rarest marble, surmounted by its gilded dome flashing in the sunlight ! You can see the marble casing of the doorway and also the high marble doors, which I am glad the despoilers were generous enough to leave unmolested. That door-way is thirty-nine feet high and nineteen feet wide. Over it is the ancient bronze grating which has been preserved intact. On either side of the entrance there stood, originally, bronze statues of Augustus and Agrippa, but only the niches remain.

Those old grey walls, battered by the storms and ravages of the long centuries, have almost an air of human weariness about them, as though they realized that they belonged to the one structure in Rome that is apparently doomed to abide forever, since it stands alone among the remains of the ancient city, surveying the ruin that has seized upon temple and tower and stately arch. Contemplating this unique building, it is certainly a matter for congratulation that its pillars are still majestic, while its comrades in architecture, reared in that far imperial time – even the most massive of them – have left but

“Two or three columns and many a stone, Marble and granite, with grass overgrown.”

We pause in admiration before the matchless structure ; more than two thousand years have passed over this building, and we do not seem, with all our skill and science, to be able to build another like it.

The walls of the Pantheon are twenty feet thick, constructed of solid concrete. Originally, they were faced with marble, but this has been torn off and used to beautify churches in the city, leaving them, as you now see, grim and rough, and pierced with holes, into which were inserted the bronze clamps that fastened the marble slabs.

Wandering over its ample pavement, it is pleasant for us to look up at the circular opening in the dome, twenty-eight feet in diameter, by which the edifice is lighted, and see the summer clouds float across it; and when they have glided on, to behold the entire circle of sunny blue, and the great slanting beams of sunshine, visible all the way down to the floor.

The Pantheon contains the busts, and, in some in-stances the bodies, of many of the celebrated men of Italy. Raphael, who had greatly admired this building, is buried here, and inscribed on his tomb is this epigram by Cardinal Bembo :

“Living, great Nature feared he might outvie Her works ; and, dying, fears herself to die.”

Here are also buried Victor Emmanuel and the late King Humbert.

When King Humbert was buried here, a greater pageant for a funeral had not been seen in Rome for many centuries. The representatives of a hundred Italian cities, bearing countless banners on which were blazoned coats of arms; ecclesiastics in their rich and impressive regalia; and many thousands of soldiers in their brilliant uniforms, all united to render honor to the dead, and to impress the world with the great truth, that has been so often taught here before, that

“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Await alike the inevitable hour;

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Before leaving this place let me call your attention to the fact that this square in front of the Pantheon is called the Piazza della Rotunda. That small obelisk, surmounted by a cross, with the sculptured base and fountain, which you see in the center of the square, is of Egyptian granite nearly twenty feet high, and is of the time of Psammeticus I in the seventh century, B. C. It formerly stood in the Piazzetta in front of S. Macuto, close to the Church of S. Ignazio, one street to our left, where it had been placed by Paul V. It was removed to this spot by Clement XI.

You observe that this fountain is surrounded by a railing, something contrary to the usual custom in Rome. The purpose of it is not so much to keep the public beyond the reach of its water as to prevent the numerous vehicles that frequent the square from doing it damage.

Not even a casual visitor in Rome can leave the city after his brief stay, without having become acquainted with the fact that, apart from churches, the distinctive feature of modern Rome is its fountains. Upon them have often been lavished the purest and tenderest elements of Italian art. Go where you will in the Eternal City, you are never out of the sound of falling water, and never at a loss where to slake your thirst in the hot and sultry noontime.

While we are gazing at that fountain it will be interesting for us to note that a short distance on our left in a northeasterly direction, is the famous fountain of Trevi erected by Clement XII in 1735, with blocks of marble that originally formed the facing of the tomb of Caecilia Metelia, which we shall see later on. Associated with that fountain is the old legend that, if you visit it in the full of the moon the last night of your stay in Rome and drop a coin into its capacious basin and drink of its waters, you will return again, no mat-ter how far distant your feet may stray.

Seated together at our last dinner, some one of our company of four recalled this ancient saying, and as, to our delight, the moon happened to be at the full, we determined to try the experiment, for we had spent many days in the grand old city and would be glad to see it again. So we set out, arm in arm, four abreast where the streets and absence of crowds permitted, and two abreast where they did not; and long before we reached the fountain its rhythmical cadences were falling on our ears. Ranged about the broad brim of the basin, the silvery light of the moon pouring down upon us and flooding everything with a dreamful radiance, we thrust our hands into our pockets and each took out a small coin and dropped it into the foaming water ; then, stooping down, we took a long, deep draught of the pure cold water and turned away, wondering what the long years would bring us, and whether, ever again, we would stand beside the fountain and drink of its bright and laughing waters.

We pass on, now, more than a third of a mile beyond those houses to the left of the Pantheon, to the great center of Roman life, the Capitoline Hill and the Forum. That section, which we are about to visit, was by far the most important part of the city all the way down through the centuries of the Kings, the Republic and the Empire. Since the fall of the Empire it has been one of the most deserted sections of Rome. We are to go first to the Capitoline, the hill of the Kings and the Republic ; afterwards we shall see the Palatine, the hill of the Empire.

On the general map of Rome we find our next position given a few inches below and to the right of the Pantheon, by the number 24 in a circle and the two red lines which start at the end of the street, Via di Aracoeli, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, on the northwestern side, and extend toward the southeast. It is evident that when standing in that place the Island of the Tiber will be less than one-third of a mile from us on our right.

That position before the Capitoline Hill is given in much more detail on the special map of the Roman Forum (Map 5), which we shall now need to use constantly for some time. In the extreme upper left-hand corner of this Forum map we find the Piazza Aracoeli. To the right, above a flight of steps, is the Piazza del Campidoglio – the square that occupies the very center of the Capitoline summit. Above this square on the map is the Museo Capitolino (Capitoline Museum), and below it the Palazzo or Palace of the Conservators, while to the right is the Palace of the Senators, the Capitol building itself. We are to stand, as the red lines show, a little farther to the left in the Piazza Aracoeli, and look toward the right.