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The Pantheon (meaning Temple of all the Gods) is a building in Rome which was originally built as a temple to the seven deities of the seven planets in the state religion of Ancient Rome, but which has been a Christian church since the 7th century. It is the best-preserved of all Roman buildings.
It has been in continuous use throughout its history. Although the identity of the Pantheon's primary architect remains uncertain, it is largely assigned to Apollodorus of Damascus.
The building is circular with a portico of three ranks of huge granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment opening into the rotunda, under a coffered, concrete dome, with a central opening (oculus), the Great Eye, open to the sky. A rectangular structure links the portico with the rotunda. Though often still drawn as a free-standing building, there was a library building at its rear into which it abutted; of this building there are only archaeological remains.
In the walls at the back of the portico were niches, probably for statues of Caesar, Augustus and Agrippa, or for the Capitoline Triad, or another set of gods. The large bronze doors to the cella, once plated with gold, still remain, but the gold has long since vanished. The pediment was decorated with a sculpture in bronze showing the Battle of the Titans - holes may still be seen where the clamps which held the sculpture in place were fixed.
The original Pantheon was built in 27 BC-25 BC under the Roman Empire, during the third consulship of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and his name is inscribed on the portico of the building.
The inscription reads M∑AGRIPPA∑L∑F∑COS∑TERTIUM∑FECIT, "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, during his third consulate, built this". It was originally built with adjoining baths and water gardens.
Agrippa's Pantheon was destroyed along with other buildings in a fire in 80, and the current building dates from about 125, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, as date-stamps on the bricks reveal. It was totally reconstructed, with the text of the original inscription added to the new facade, a common practice in Hadrian's rebuilding projects all over Rome. Hadrian was a cosmopolitan emperor who travelled widely in the east and was a great admirer of Greek culture.
He seems to have intended the Pantheon, a temple to all the gods, to be a kind of ecumenical or syncretist gesture to the subjects of the Roman Empire who did not worship the old gods of Rome, or who (as was increasingly the case) worshipped them under other names. How the building was actually used is not known.
The building was later repaired by Septimius Severus and Caracalla in 202, for which there is another, smaller inscription.
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In 609 the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who reconsecrated it as a Christian church, the Church of Mary and all the Martyr Saints (Santa Maria ad Martyres), which title it retains.
The building's consecration as a church saved it from the abandonment and spoliation which befell the majority of ancient Rome's buildings during the early mediaeval period. Paul the Deacon records the spoliation of the building by the Emperor Constans II, who visited Rome in July 663:
"Remaining at Rome twelve days he pulled down everything that in ancient times had been made of metal for the ornament of the city, to such an extent that he even stripped off the roof of the church [of the blessed Mary] which at one time was called the Pantheon, and had been founded in honor of all the gods and was now by the consent of the former rulers the place of all the martyrs; and he took away from there the bronze tiles and sent them with all the other ornaments to Constantinople."
Much fine external marble has been removed in the course of the centuries, and there are capitals from some of the pilasters in the British Museum. The only other loss has been the external sculptures, which adorned the pediment above Agrippa's inscription. The marble interior and the great bronze doors have survived, although the latter have been restored.
Since the Renaissance the Pantheon has been used as a tomb. Among those buried there are the painters Raphael and Annibale Caracci, the architect Baldassare Peruzzi. In the 15th century, the Pantheon was adorned with paintings: the best-known is the "Annunciazione" by Melozzo da Forlž. Architects, like Brunelleschi, who used the Pantheon as help when designing the Duomo, looked to the Pantheon as inspiration for their works.
During the reign of Pope Urban VIII (died 1644), the Pope ordered the bronze ceiling of the Pantheon's portico melted down. Most of the bronze was used to make bombards for the fortification of Castel Sant'Angelo, with the remaining amount used by the Apostolic Camera for various other works. (It is also said that the bronze was used by Bernini in creating the baldachino above the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica, but according to at least one expert, the Pope's accounts state that about 90% of the bronze was used for the cannon, and that the bronze for the baldachin came from Venice.) This led to the Latin proverb, Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini ("What the barbarians did not do, the Barberinis [Urban VIII's family name] did").
In 1747, the broad frieze below the dome with its false windows was 'restored,' but bore little resemblance to the original. In the early decades of the twentieth century, a piece of the original, as could be reconstructed from Renaissance drawings and paintings, was recreated in one of the panels.
Also buried there are two kings of Italy: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto's Queen, Margherita. Although Italy has been a republic since 1946, volunteer members of Italian monarchist organisations maintain a vigil over the royal tombs in the Pantheon. This has aroused protests from time to time from republicans, but the Catholic authorities allow the practice to continue, although the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage is in charge of the security and maintenance.
The Pantheon is still a church and masses are still celebrated in the church, particularly on important Catholic days of obligation, and for weddings.
For more information on the The Pantheon, visit the source at Wikitravel
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