When Emperor Phocas donated this pagan temple to Pope Boniface IV in 608, he unwittingly ensured that one of the marvels of ancient Rome would be preserved, virtually unaltered, in its new guise as the Christian church Santa Maria ad Martyres. Emperor Hadrian, an amateur architect, designed this lovely structure in AD 118–125. It has been lightly sacked over the ages – barbarians took portable pieces, Constans II stole its gilded roof tiles and, in 1625, Urban VIII melted down the portico’s bronze ceiling panels to make cannon for Castel Sant’ Angelo. Yet the airy interior and perfect proportions remain, a wonder of the world even in its own time.

Piazza della Rotonda

  • Open 8:30am–7:30pm Mon–Sat, 9am–6pm Sun (9am–1pm during hols); Mass: 10:30am Sun

  • Free

The First Pantheon

Emperor Augustus’s son-in-law, Marcus Agrippa, built the first Pantheon in 27 BC, replaced in AD 118-125 by Hadrian’s rotunda. The pediment’s inscription “M. Agrippa cos tertium fecit”(“M. Agrippa made this”) was Hadrian’s modest way of honouring Agrippa. The pediment also provided the illusion of a smaller temple, making the massive space inside even more of a surprise (the Pantheon was originally raised and you couldn’t see the dome behind). Bernini’s “ass ears”, tiny towers he added to the pediment, were removed in 1883.

Agrippa inscription, Pantheon façade

There’s a good gelateria, Cremeria Monforte, on the Pantheon’s right flank, and an excellent coffee shop, La Tazza d’Oro, just off the square .

Rather than bemoan a rainy day in Rome, scurry to the Pantheon to watch the water fall gracefully though the oculus and spatter against the marble floor and down a drain. Snowfalls are even better.

Top 10 Features
  1. Dome

    The widest masonry dome in Europe is precisely as high as it is wide: 43.3 m (142 ft). Its airy, coffered space, cleverly shot through with a shaft of sunlight from the oculus, is what lends the Pantheon an ethereal air.

  2. Oculus

    The bold, 8.3 m diameter (27-ft) hole at the dome’s centre provides light and structural support: the tension around its ring helps hold the weight of the dome.

  3. Portico

    The triangular pediment is supported by 16 pink and grey granite columns, all original save the three on the left (17th-century copies).

  4. Doors

    The massive bronze doors are technically original, but were so extensively renovated under Pius IV (1653) they have been practically recast.

  5. Walls

    The 6.2-m (20-ft) thick walls incorporate built-in brick arches to help distribute the weight downwards, relieving the stress of the heavy roof.

  6. Royal Tombs

    Two of Italy’s kings are honoured by simple tombs. Vittorio Emanuele II (1861–78) unified Italy and became its first king. His son, Umberto I, was assassinated in 1900.

  7. Raphael’s Tomb

    Raphael, darling of the Roman Renaissance art world but dead at 37, rests in a plain, ancient stone sarcophagus. Poet Bembo’s Latin epitaph translates as: “Here lies Raphael, whom Nature feared would outdo her while alive, but now that he is gone fears she, too, will die.” Other artists buried here include Baldassare Peruzzi.

  8. Fountain

    Giacomo della Porta designed this stoop Leonardo Sormani carved it in 1575. The Egyptian obelisk of Rameses II was added in 1711.

  9. Marble Decorations

    Red porphyry, giallo antico, and other ancient marbles grace the interior. More than half the polychrome panels cladding the walls are original, the rest careful reproductions, as is the floor.

  10. Basilica of Neptune Remains

    Of the Pantheon’s old neighbour, all that remains are an elaborate cornice and fluted columns against the Pantheon’s rear wall.

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