History of the Ancient Roman Pantheon after the Empire
In spite of numerous damaging events such as earthquakes, floods and pillaging the building was always maintained if not restored to its essentially 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 for Rome the treasure was intercepted and taken for ever by his Arab enemies.
In Rome the Middle Ages were a period of struggle amongst noble families and local baronies. In several occasions the Pantheon was used as a fortress like many other monumental buildings such as the Colosseum of Castel St. Angelo for example. In one occasion during the 11th Century the Pantheon was actually used as head quarters to an anti-Pope in his attempts to outdo the “legitimate” Pope.
During the Renaissance it was customary to climb the outside of the building and look down through the Oculus. One notable visitor was the German Emperor Charles V who a few years earlier had sacked the city and was now on visit to ask for the Pope’s pardon. 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.
Through the ages the different statues which stood in the niches have been replaced by Christian altars and sepulchers.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”.
Equally poignant is that Raphael’s life-long partner “La Fornarina” the subject of several famous paintings was not invited to the funeral. Instead, there’s an inscription commemorating his official partner who happened to be his main sponsor’s niece and who Raphael had put off marrying as long as he could.
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