Flashing back again to art history in Holmdel High I remember Ms. Johnston going on an on about the pantheon. She had terrible slides that I believe she had taken herself. I was not impressed by the photos or what she said but she was practically moved to tears trying to convey the thing of the pantheon. Was it her passion for architecture or her frustration with bored teenagers? I liked Ms. Johnston a lot. She was our language arts teacher, too, and she was always nice to me. She once assigned us a heated topic for a persuasive essay and my Catholic girlfriend and I were writing about birth control and other things teenagers need to know about and know nothing about. We asked her what withdrawal meant as a contraceptive technique. I’m still embarrassed. I remember the drama of teh pantheon lecture so when I saw a sign for the pantheon I thought, “Might as well stop by.” Might as well almost miss a wonder of the world.
Michelangelo said it appeared to have been built by angels and I have to agree. There are so many delightful things to know. Firstly, the engineering: almost 2,000 years after it was built the Pantheon sports the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. No rebar here. Ancient Roman concrete has endured and it predates the discovery of Portland cement. There are books about Roman concrete. It lead to developments in architecture called the Concrete Revolution. How did I not know this? I majored in concrete. I guess I majored in Portland Cement Concrete. At the Pantheon they used lighter aggregate as the dome grew higher and thinner. This is a technique we still use today. Coffers in the ceiling and hidden hollow panels lightened the load. The oculus, the circular opening at the top of the dome provides light and eased stress.
Now the more esoteric marvels. Pantheon means temple of all the Gods. This place survived nearly intact for 2,000 years because it was in continuous use as a place of worship. This building is the third version of the temple. The previous buildings are believed to have burned. In the 600s the Roman government gave it to the pope and the pope rededicated it to Mary of the Martyrs. Everybody still called it the Pantheon. Pity the priests trying to change its name through history. It defies ownership by one religion. The dome is a 43.3 meter hemisphere. It sits on a cylinder with walls the height of the radius of the dome. A perfect sphere with a diameter of 43.3 meters could fit inside. The oculus and the front doors are the only source of light. The shape of the building is so pleasing to the eye it has been copied all over the world.
The interior has been modified from a place full of Roman gods to a place full of Catholic images. The bronze portico ceiling was removed and melted down by a greedy pope. Despite the changes the grandeur remains. A shaft of light blasts through the oculus and moves around the interior as the world spins. It’s a powerful and fun effect. Flat earthers have some explaining to do.
I could go on and on. I think I learned this from my experience in high school and the accidental visit. You really have to see it to believe it. The crowds are easily forgotten inside this wonder.