The Best of Both Worlds
While we were in Rome, we visited many amazing places like the Colosseum, the Vatican, and St. Peter’s Basilica. But one place we went combines both the pagan past with the Christian present: the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was originally a Roman temple built by Marcus Agrippa. It is unknown which god the temple is dedicated to because it was Marcus Agrippa’s private temple, and he dedicated it to all the gods. The original Pantheon was destroyed in 80 AD, rebuilt, destroyed again in 110 AD, and rebuilt again by Hadrian. This is the Pantheon that you see today. It was converted from a Roman temple to a Christian church in 609 AD on the orders of Pope Boniface IV. Currently, many famous people are buried there, including the painter Raphael and King Umberto I. Seeing the tomb of the painter Raphael was especially impactful because I had researched his work before the trip and then saw his famous works, like The School of Athens, in the Vatican. Visiting the place where he is buried completed the circle. I am not typically a huge art fan, but seeing the magnitude of Raphael’s paintings was an experience I was not expecting. This made me change the way I look at art, not just looking at the image itself but appreciating the hard work the artist put into the piece to create something that will be admired for generations.
As you approach the entrance to the Pantheon, you walk through the classic Roman columns before passing through a giant doorway. You are then inside a giant circular dome, with lots of sunlight coming through because of the massive hole at the top of the dome. You can really get a sense of the Roman architecture as you look around inside and out. The giant columns and Roman inscription, the arches on the inside, and the circular construction similar to the Colosseum are all examples of Roman architecture. The massive hole at the top of the dome sends a beam of light shining into the room. It is thought that at a certain time in the year the emperor of Rome would have stood on a pedestal with the beam of light shining on him, this was to make the emperor look like he is a god ascending into the heavens. As you walk around you can see why the Pantheon might have been used to make the emperor look god like, the grand Roman architecture, the giant columns, and the Latin inscriptions. But you can also see the modern aspects of the Pantheon, the altar that is still used today in masses, the tombs of Italian kings Umberto I and Vittorio Emanuele II, and the beautiful paintings and sculptures.
You see a mixture of the old and the new--Roman architecture mixed with the more modern Christian art, along with the tombs of Italian kings and queens. There aren't many places in Rome where you can get a picture of both the old and the new. This combination made it feel like you were walking in a newer building, not an ancient ruin that has been really well preserved. Thinking of it now, that was what struck me most while I was there. The fact that you can walk inside a place constructed almost 2000 years ago that is still standing in almost perfect condition is pretty mind-boggling— not to mention the fact that it is still used today as a church, not just as a tourist spot. If you ever spend some time in Rome, this is definitely one of the places you should visit before you leave.