All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in July 2009.
Piazza della Rotonda (Book 2) (Map C2) (Day 4) (View C6) (Rione Pigna) and (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
In this page:
The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
The Pantheon (S. Maria della Rotonda or S. Maria ad Martyres)
Basilica di Nettuno
The Plate (No. 25)
The Pantheon is the only large monument of ancient Rome which at Vasi's time was well preserved. Its large circular hall (la Rotonda) made it different from the traditional temples which had a small cell, so it was easily converted into a church. During the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII Bernini built the two bell towers, popularly called le orecchie (ears) d'asino (ass), but no other major changes were made to the structure and design of the building.
The view is taken from the green dot in the map below. The two small buildings around the fountain shown in the 1748 map were pulled down at the beginning of the XIXth century. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Panteon di Agrippa o Chiesa di S. Maria della Rotonda; 2) Fontana con Obelisco di Granito di Egitto; 3) Palazzo Crescenzi. 3) is covered in another page. The dotted line in the small map delineates the borders between Rione Sant'Eustachio (left), Rione Colonna (top right quarter) and Rione Pigna (lower right quarter).
Vasi added to this page a small etching showing the quacks and charlatans who used to congregate in Piazza della Rotonda to sell their goods.
Piazza della Rotonda is usually very crowded, but on an early Sunday morning it offers a quieter view. The bell towers were pulled down in the XIXth century: the fašades of Palazzo Crescenzi and of the adjoining palace were rebuilt a few yards away from the Pantheon; excavations along the left side of the temple led to the discovery of Saepta Julia, a portico built by Julius Caesar.
The Pantheon was initially erected in 27 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Emperor Augustus, when he was consul for the third time. It was completely rebuilt in AD 123 by Emperor Hadrian, who maintained the old inscription celebrating Agrippa; he was personally involved in the design of the temple. It was restored in 202 by Emperor Septimius Severus. The temple stood on a high podium, whereas today it is at a level which is lower than the rest of the square and this makes it less imposing. It was dedicated to all the gods; it was converted into a church in 608.
Three columns on the left side fell and were replaced by Pope Urban VIII and Pope Alexander VII, with columns found near S. Luigi dei Francesi and which belonged to baths built by Emperor Alexander Severus. This explains their different colour (pink rather than grey) and capitals.
The dome of the Pantheon is larger than that of St. Peter's or that of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, yet because it is not supported by a high drum it does not fully convey the sense of its dimension. The shape of the main hall is a cylinder covered by a half of a sphere; the height of the cylinder is equal to the radius of the sphere. The dome was covered with gilded bronze tiles; these were removed and shipped to Constantinople at the request of Byzantine Emperor Constans II.
The technique used for the construction of the dome is different from that used by Filippo Brunelleschi in S. Maria del Fiore in Florence, the first large Renaissance dome. In the latter the weight of a heavy lantern enhances the strength of the structure, whereas Roman engineers lightened as much as possible the dome of the Pantheon; not only its thickness progressively decreases, but the materials used in the upper part of the dome were lighter; its final section is a conglomerate of mortar and porous volcanic rocks. The decrease in thickness has the effect that while the interior of the ceiling is spherical, its exterior is slightly "flattened". Light comes from the oculus, a large circular opening at the top of the dome and there are no windows in the supporting walls in order not to weaken them.
The interior underwent many changes meant to give it an appearance more appropriate for a church; in particular in 1747 the original decoration was replaced by stuccoes; part of it has been restored; many coloured marbles were used for it and in particular porphyry; the windows gave light to a corridor in the circular walls.
Read Lord Byron's verses dedicated to this site. Learn more about the inscription. Dan Brown set here an episode of his novel Angels and Demons; read some remarks on it. You may wish to see the building as it appeared in a 1588 Guide to Rome.
The basin of the fountain was designed in 1575 by Giacomo della Porta for Pope Gregory XIII. In 1711, during the pontificate of Pope Clement XI, Filippo Barigioni completed the fountain by adding the obelisk (to see all the obelisks of Rome click here). This stood opposite S. Macuto and it was dedicated to Pharaoh Ramesses II. A reminder of Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is the snake you can see in the image below and in the background of this page. The dolphins and the snake are a work by Vincenzo Felici.
Basilica di Nettuno
The northern wall of a large basilica dedicated to Neptune is visible at the back of the Pantheon: the decoration is based on dolphins, tridents and shells and it is a clear reference to the god. It was built in 25 BC by Agrippa to celebrate his naval victory at Actium: it was not a temple, but a hall for meetings and it was located between the Pantheon and the nearby baths also built by Agrippa. The construction of so many important buildings in this low part of Rome, which was almost surrounded by the Tiber, is an indication that the Romans had found ways to minimize the impact of floods by proper maintenance of the river bed and effective sewerage.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 2: Piazza de' Crescenzi
Next step in Day 4 itinerary: S. Stefano del Cacco
Next step in tour of Rione Pigna: Convento Domenicano
Next step in tour of Rione Sant'Eustachio: S. Luigi dei Francesi