The Pantheon was built between 118 and 125 AD on the ruins of another pagan temple, which was destroyed by fire in 80 AD. When the Pantheon was built, it was used to worship the pagan gods of Rome (though no one knows specifically which ones) until 609 when it was converted to a Catholic church by Pope Boniface IV and subsequently called Santa Maria of the Martyrs. The Pantheon also houses the tombs of Vittorio Emanuele II, Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy, as well as the renowned artist Raphael.
Found on the Piazza della Rotonda, a steady stream of tourists walk in and out since there is no admission to go inside. While the inside is beautiful, it is the dome of the Pantheon that is the most fascinating part of the architecture. The ancient Romans who built the Pantheon took into consideration the weight of the materials they used to build their temples since they used travertine, tufa, and pumice to construct the dome and to reduce the stress on the lower part of the building. Possibly why this amazing structure is still around and it such amazing condition.
At the top of the dome is an open oculus, so when rain falls, the rain comes inside the Pantheon, but does not puddle since there are tiny holes in the flooring that leads to the old Roman pipes beneath the building. The oculus is fascinating and beautiful. It gives the inside an interesting glow when the light enters just so and adds to the draw of the dome ceiling.
When inside the Pantheon, a huge touristy thing to do is to set your phone on a timer and take a selfie with the dome behind you. It does create a cool picture, but the angle of the sun can be problematic. Ours look more like shadows than us 🙂 Also note that this is considered first and foremost a place of worship and the noise level is kept at a minimum with a recording asking those inside for “silence.”
Trevi Fountain is not too far of a walk from the Pantheon (and there are a number of smaller sites to see along the way). A fountain in this location dates back to Roman times when Aqua Virgo Aqueduct provided water to the fountains in central Rome as well as the Roman Baths. The original fountain in this spot was called Trevi fountain, or “Three street fountain” because it was located at the meeting point of three roads.
Pope Clemens XII held a contest in 1730, to design a new fountain for the location, with Nicola Salvi winning the right to design it. Unfortunately, he died before the fountain was completed.
Today, Trevi Fountain is huge and people crowd around it all to take a photo of themselves throwing a coin into the water, which is said to bring the person throwing the coin back to Rome. Interestingly, it’s a crime to take money from Trevi fountain, which brings in a staggering 3,000 euros a day. The money is collected nightly and given to Caritas, a charity that provides rechargeable grocery cards to Rome’s needy.
Even in October, Trevi Fountain was packed with people and there was a significant police presence. People try to stand on railings to get photos and other not so swift things in the hopes of getting a better selfie or look and the police do their best to keep those adventuresome lot from getting hurt.
One sight I wanted to see because I studied it in art history was San Carlo Quattro alla Fontane. Built in the 17th century, this quaint, yet beautiful little Baroque church designed by Francesco Borromini. The plans were a challenge since the site was small and cramped, yet Borromini used a Greek cross for the layout of the interior and an undulating facade–a feature other architects copied later.
When you walk from the Pantheon to Trevi Fountain and then out to San Carlo Quattro alla Fontane, the church seems a little far from the old centre of Rome, but obviously it wasn’t sandwiched between buildings the way it is.
In photos, I always found the facade interesting because of that wave effect, but when we reached it, I found myself disappointed because of the dirt and grime accumulated on the white stone. Entering the small church was another matter.
The chapel is far from large and for the most part simple, with only the altar and two additional paintings adorning the walls, but the dome is stunning. While the dome isn’t painted or incredibly ornate, it’s a slight oval, which is quite different, as well as stark white. The gold dove in the oculus the focus. While simple, I could’ve sat and stared at it for much longer than I was able since they needed to close the church. I was disappointed, but I sat inside for a few minutes at least and took my photos 🙂