Through the Oculus (Rome Church 1)

The Pantheon by night.

I have a favorite set of churches in Rome that I like to visit in succession. They are close to each other and seeing them together in on day provides a nice little chronology of changes that happened in architecture over the past 200 years.

In the coming days, I’ll tell you a little about each of these four churches:

1) The Pantheon

2) Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

3) Il Gesu

4) San Ignazio

Today, I’m showing you the first. It’s my all-time favorite building, the Pantheon. It was built 1900 years ago and the technology it includes is simply amazing.  The walls are 6 meters thick at the base and the dome spans 142 feet.

Looking up into the coffers (hollowed out squares) and oculus (opening) in the dome.

Can you see the blind arches in the wall behind the columns? This is a hollowed out space, where the wall isn’t as think and they need to carry a lot of weight with a thinner wall.

The Romans used blind arches (arches without windows below) to help carry the weight down to the ground in places where they wanted to make the walls thinner than 6 feet.  They coffered (or hollowed out) areas in the ceiling help reduce the weight of the roof.

The oculus (opening) at the tip was never closed over… it’s open to the sky even today.  There are holes in the floor to drain rain water that falls thorough it.

The Pantheon has been operated as a religious facility continuously for nearly 2000 years.  The Romans used it as a one-stop shop to worship many different (pan) gods (theon) but it’s been operating as a Catholic church since, I guess, about the time Constantine legalized Christianity.

Blind arches seen from the outside of the building — these would have been covered by marble in Roman times.

At that time, Istanbul was renamed Constantinople, in honor of him.  (The Hagia Sofia is located I that city.  I posted pictures of a baptism being held in its smaller sibling, the Agia Sophia, that I took during my visit to Thessaloniki.)

People’s aesthetic tastes changed over time, and you can see a clear example in the band at the base of the dome.  Most of what’s there today is from a renovation done during the Renaissance, but along the way the owners of the Pantheon (i.e., the Roman Catholic church) replaced part of the band to show what woudl have been there in Roman times.

Can you see a difference?  Which part is Renaissance?  Which is Roman?

Band showing Renaissance and Roman detailing.

Drawing that shows the thickness of the wall.

Looking up from the entry vestibule, you can see and “feel” the thickness of the wall

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