May 25th, 2009
Late afternoon, washed and deodorized, we took bus #64 to Pantheon. Rome is very well connected by buses. The buses have more space to stand than to seat hinting at relatively short routes. The ticket dispenser was out of order this day and we ended up taking a free ride.
We entered the oldest temple in the world that is still in service. The best surviving building of antiquity.
One does not need to be religious to feel pious at the Pantheon. Pantheon is unlike any temple I have seen. Emperor Hadrian himself designed the structure to replace an older temple built by Marcus Agrippa. Yet, he selflessly left Agrippa’s name emblazoned on the portico.
The grandiose of the dome hits you once you enter. And it hits you only after you enter. The cube of the exterior, the approach, the facade does not hint once at such a semi-circular wonder. At 43 meters and change in diameter and height, this dome has inspired every dome that has been built since. Brunelleschi was to come here from Florence 1300 years later to study the design as he undertook the huge task of capping Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. As did Michelangelo for his St. Peter’s.
In the center of the dome is the Oculus, throwing open the innards of the building to the sky. At no two time in a day does the Pantheon look the same because of the wonderful lightshow the Sun puts up. And when the sun hides behind clouds, and the cloud send down rain, the oculus turns into a water fall, fearlessly bathing the ancient marble tiling. The floor is convex allowing the water to flow to the periphery caught by hidden sieves and lead through well designed drainage to the Tiber.
We bought ourselves audio tours shelling out E3. The audio tour is nothing but a phone handset with buttons to punch numbers. Each number corresponds to a spot that you should stand to hear the excellent prerecorded commentary. Rhea decided to use the wooden benches to take a nap, within feet of where Raphael lies in his tomb since 1520. Only Raphael could have managed to get himself such a premium piece of real estate.
It is only after seeing his work in Vatican and Uffizi that you start believing he deserves it, yet you never stop being jealous.
(Read on. Next we visited the Piazza Navona)