Friday, March 7, 2014

The Pantheon: A secret revealed

Today's photos:


1. From this vantage point just in front of the Pantheon, the portico effectively hides the dome.

2. Here is the dome seen from the terrace of a nearby hotel.

3. The amazing interior of the dome with the "oculus" in the center.


I often find interesting stories about ancient Rome in the newspapers of modern Rome. What follows is information I gathered from an article in the Rome paper Il Messaggero, yesterday, March 6, 2014. It concerns a discovery made about one of ancient Rome's most famous monuments: the Pantheon. Just when you think you know everything there is to know about this building . . . think again!


"Imagine what an impression it must have made on visitors in the first century A.D. as they witnessed the emperor Augustus, suddenly and dramatically illuminated by golden rays of light at the very moment at which he crosses the threshold of the Pantheon." This is my own paraphrase of a statement made by Eugenio La Rocca, former Italian Minister of Culture, historian, archaeologist and professor at the University of Rome La Sapienza.


La Rocca describes his latest theory as "a unique astronomical spectacle", an event carefully planned by Augustus to connect him, the first emperor, to Romulus, the original founder of Rome in 753 B.C. This remarkable event happens only once a year, on a particular day and at a particular time. It occurs on April 21, the traditional date of the founding of Rome, at exactly 12:00 noon. On that day and at that moment, amazingly, the light streaming in through the "oculus", the one window at the center of the dome, strikes the entrance to the temple. It did so in the beginning and continues to do so today.


The discovery of this phenomenon also leads archeologists to the conclusion that the Pantheon of today, rebuilt under Hadrian in the second century A.D., has the same orientation, or line, as the original one built under Augustus in the first century B.C., that is, facing north. It had always been thought that the original Pantheon faced east. This fact was recently confirmed by the discovery and careful study of the remains of the  steps which led up to the original building.


La Rocca makes a further connection of the Pantheon to Romulus when he says that "it is possible to suppose today that the building was constructed in the very same place where the legendary apotheosis (deification) of Romulus happened". Another famous archeologist, Filippo Coarelli, had previously speculated that the Pantheon was built purposely on this spot because it was here that the mysterious disappearance of Romulus had occurred, thus making this a sacred spot. An alternate theory says that the apotheosis of Romulus happened in the Roman Forum, but according to La Rocca (and Coarelli before him), the existence of the Pantheon in the Campus Martius where the Roman army trained, makes the second interpretation more credible.


In any case, I'm hoping for a bright, sunny day on April 21!


If you want a quick and concise review of the history of the Pantheon, see The Sights of Rome, Chapter 16, The Pantheon.


phillis fog said...

Look here for a sight to this "new" discovery:

phillis fog said...

Sorry I do not know how to avoid the break in the address above but just search "cnn pantheon" and you will find the documentary, filmed in 2011 (!)

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