History of the Ancient Roman Pantheon
The history of the Roman Pantheon is over 2000 years long. It has remained in use throughout that period.
The history of the Pantheon during Roman times has been described in a preceding article. We shall now consider what happened to the Pantheon after the fall of Rome…
The Pantheon after the Empire: A church, a fortress, an inspiring monument.
The Pantheon suffered numerous damaging events such as earthquakes, floods and pillaging. However it was always maintained and restored to its original condition.
In the year 663AD emperor Constantinus III (of the Roman Empire of the East) removed the gold plated bronze brickwork together with a hoard of Roman treasures to take it to Constantinople (Istanbul). Unfortunately for him and Rome, his Arab enemies intercepted the treasure.
The Pantheon houses an anti-Pope in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages the Pantheon was also used as a fortress.
In Rome the Middle Ages were a period of struggle amongst noble families and local baronies. Many monumental buildings, like the Colosseum and Castel St.Angelo, were converted into family fortresses and strongholds. Castel St.Angelo is the most obvious example we can see today. It was actually the funeral monument of Emperor Hadrian and was used by the papacy as its own fortress.
In the 11th Century the Pantheon was even used as head quarters by an anti-Pope during a dispute for the title.
Pillaged during the Renaissance: A tomb for the painter Raphael
During the Renaissance it was customary to climb up on the outside of the building and look down through the Oculus. One notable visitor was the German Emperor Charles V: He was on official visit to ask pardon for having sacked the city. It seems he was lucky to avoid getting pushed in to his death by his Roman guide.
In the 17th century Pope Urban VIII Barberini removed the 200 tons of bronze covering the entrance portico to make the altar at St. Peter’s (by Bernini) and 80 cannons for the defense of Castle St. Angel. This lead to the Barberini family being eternally remembered as follows:
Quod non fecerunt barbari fecerunt Barberini
“What the Barbarians didn’t do the Barberini did”
The architect Bernini was also commissioned to build two bell towers either side of the pediment which came to be known as the “Asses Ears”. Fortunately we have been spared this wondrous addition by later restoration of the original. There are several etchings and paintings of that period showing this temporary architectural modification.
7 altars in the Pantheon
There are 7 niches around the perimeter. These were for altars or statues of the seven known planets-gods the Romans knew of at the time.
Through the ages the different statues which stood in the niches have been replaced by Christian altars and sepulchers. There are a few Medieval tombs and more recently some of the niches have been used for the kings and queens of Italy.
The most visited burial is perhaps that of the Renaissance painter Raphael who died aged 37. In accordance with Raphael’s will, his mortal remains are held in a sarcophagus of classical style looked upon by a painting entitled the “Madonna of the stone” (Madonna del sasso) painted by one of his pupils, Lorenzetto.
A poignant inscription on the tomb was written by a friend of Raphael’s, Cardinal Bembo:
“Ille hic est Raphael, timuit quo sospite vinci, rerum magna parens et moriente mori”.
Which I loosely translate as “Here lies Raphael. Mother Nature feared to be bettered by him when he lived and to die with him when he died”.
There’s an inscription commemorating his official partner – Bembo’s niece -who Raphael had put off marrying as long as he could. Raphael’s beloved life-long partner “La Fornarina” was not invited to the funeral.
The Pantheon in modern times: A church worthy of the Kings of Italy
The pantheon continues to be a fully functioning church with regular services. It is also used for some concerts and is frequently visited by tourists. They wonder open-mouthed as they stare up at the dome and the unique architecture.
History of the Pantheon part 1 – The Ancient Roman Pantheon during the Empire
History of the Pantheon part 2 – The Ancient Roman Pantheon after the Empire