One of the more inspiring and brilliantly conceived and constructed dome structures in the world is the Pantheon of Rome. This example imposes a magnificent strength of ingenuity and dominance over their surrounding landscape, and the Pantheon deserves to be researched and admired for its architecturally innovative and bold design of its time. The building was accommodated with serious technical impediments that required a thorough and scrutinizing attention to detail in order to overcome.
It is because of the prevailed obstacles by the various designers, architects and builders of this building that captures the consideration of those interested in the development of building technology and progress throughout the history of dome architecture and architecture in general.
Considering the mastery of building techniques and materials of the time the buildings were erected, it is still quite impressive how immense and concise the overall structures were and still remain to this day. Clearly much thought and extensive planning were performed to conceive and materialize such behemoths of architectural prowess and innovation.
THESIS; Although the Pantheon and its adjoining Dome are many centuries old, their architectural competence and proficiency of structural design have withstood the test of time and is noted as a penultimate example of Dome architecture. In order to fully appreciate the grandeur of the Pantheon, a look at its formal qualities should be taken into account. The overall form of the Pantheon consists of primarily geometric and volumetric shapes such as the triangle, rectangle, cylinder and sphere when viewing the structure in its most reduced form(s).
When looking further into each varying form, a world of detail and complexities are uncovered. For instance, the entablature above the columns houses a highly detailed and intricate array of relief sculptures each encompassing their own unique set of formal qualities. Although there are many different forms found throughout the Pantheon, the most awe-inspiring is clearly the half sphere comprising the dome atop the rotunda. The sheer mass of the dome demands a sense of respect and gratitude by leaving the viewer struck by the titanic proportions whilst inside the structure.
The colors of the Pantheon are somewhat muted and primarily earth toned on the exterior fascia of the structure, while the inside houses a greater variety of colors and hues derived from the natural materials used to complete the building. The dull nature of some of the colors found throughout the structure are due to the fact that the building itself is some nineteen hundred years old and weathering from the elements has faded some of the previous vibrancy of the structure. However the color(s) of the Pantheon are still a good fit for the function of the structure.
The reddish-grey marble columns adorning the inside of the rotunda serve to enhance the spiritual essence of the previously pagan establishment by adding a sense of variety to the building. The textures found throughout the Pantheon are plentiful if the viewer is looking in the right place. The exterior of the building seems to exude a rough and somewhat craggy texture found from the bricks of the rotunda and fastened portico. The columns are also somewhat rough on the outside, perhaps due to the expanse of time which has passed since the building’s completion.
However, the marble columns housed within the structure appear smooth and pristine. The materials of the Pantheon each have their own definite feel and textural qualities. The metal used for adornments is clearly smooth whilst the igneous and metamorphic rocks which comprise the foundational elements of the building vary from being smooth to rough. The space of the Pantheon is quite massive. The oculus of the dome itself is twenty eight feet in diameter while the dome’s diameter as a whole is one hundred and forty two feet. Clearly a large space is consumed by the building which is understandable for its purpose.
The effect the space has on the viewer encourages contemplation and curiosity due to the overall massive qualities of the Pantheon. The composition of the Pantheon may seem like an odd mixture to some. To understand this more one must realize that the modern structure has been rebuilt and basically two buildings were adjoined together as one. A variety of compositional elements have been employed to create a pleasing and completely balanced work of art. The building is symmetrical and evenly split when bifurcated by an imaginary line straight down the middle.
This symmetry works well for the structure’s composition as a whole for the impressive eminence of the dome is achieved through symmetry as well. The Pantheon is perhaps the basis for all large area dome structures throughout the history of dome architecture. In fact, the Pantheon is often referred to as an architectural “point zero” and a “fountainhead of influence” regarding the dome structure (Benedetti). Built by Emperor Hadrian in 118-125 AD, the Pantheon is most commonly believed to be a structure dedicated to all gods (Dio).
The Pantheon is believed to have received its name due to many of the statues honoring the gods erected around the structure. Although this beginning intention for the Pantheon is somewhat romantic in its essence, later in its history (after the massive acceptance of Christianity by the Italians in general) the buildings purpose lost some of its religious fervor by becoming a poultry market. However, the history of the Pantheon’s structure itself is truly the pinnacle of its importance. It is because of the lasting impact brought forth by the completion of the Pantheon that many other dome structures are measured to today.
The manipulation of materials used by the Romans has still not been equaled to this day. This reality is surprising when considering the span of time which has passed since the completion of the Pantheon. A period of almost two thousand years has come and gone without any other dome structure equivalently matching the enormity and importance of the Pantheon. Hadrian’s commencement of the Pantheon has created one of the more “influential works in Western architectural history (Fazio, Moffett, and Lawrence). Keeping in mind the pantheon was created as a temple to commemorate all the pagan gods of ancient Rome (Alcott).
At the time it was a very large undertaking and Hadrian felt that using architecture was a sufficient course of action to demonstrate his imperial prowess. The Roman Empire was outstretched over a vast expanse of land and could not sustain itself, however Hadrian used his knowledge of the lay to procure some elements for his reconstruction of the Pantheon. Literally meaning “many gods” the pantheon also served as a sundial with an oculus opening at the apex of the dome. Hadrian’s belief in pagan deities coerced him to create a grand structure suitable to express the divine influence of the gods over the Roman Empire.
In fact, Hadrian’s reign produced many architectural exploits that had never been seen or even attempted before his time (Dio). Such examples were quite evident in his villa near Rome where he gave his royal architects much freedom in creating a veritable playground of structural forms. The Pantheon is often regarded as the inspiration for all subsequent domed structures throughout history. The verities considered when pondering the Pantheon provide evidence of the massive undertaking of the project. The primary reality being that the Pantheon is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome (Benedetti).
Also, the Pantheon predates almost all of its surroundings (Benedetti). The Pantheon’s feat of architectural persistence grants modern architects with an excellent example of the limitations of a single building material, and it provides a frontier of architectural perseverance for others to emulate. Benedetti explains how the Romans were capable of creating such a substantial dome structure by cleverly using successively less dense layers of aggregate throughout their concrete mixture as the dome was increasing in verticality. The pantheon was built using a variety of materials. Many of these materials were transported from great distances.
Many rare stones and elements were utilized to create an all-encompassing experience aimed at emotionally moving and influencing all those whom entered the ancient temple. The columns were made from granite which was quarried from northern Egypt and transported across the Mediterranean at great expense (Scaife). Bronze tiles were affixed to the ceiling of the pantheon. Concrete was used along with varying sizes of aggregate to create the actual dome itself. Marble was used to create many of the statues located inside the structure itself (Scaife). All the materials used to complete the pantheon served a purpose.
Some were for functionality while others were for ornamentation. The dome structure itself is also tapered in size to further aid the reduction of weight and stress on the surrounding walls, the base of the dome starts off with six meters of concrete and slowly reduced to two meters of concrete at the oculus (Bernedetti). This precedent allowed the structure to relieve an immense amount of weight which aided the structural integrity of the dome structure. Fazio, Moffett and Lawrence further explain how the Pantheon relieves much of the stress and dead load of the structure by coffering the ceiling.
This coffering reduced the weight of the roof structure immensely which thereby allowed the dome structure to consume so much volume and space. Hidden throughout the first two primary sets of ceiling coffers are eight arches that concentrate the overhead load onto the walls of the surrounding structure. These sections were left hollow to help equalize the contraction of the concrete as it hardened (Fazio, Moffett, and Wodehouse). The Romans performed this operation in order to transfer a substantial amount of stress to the foundation of the structure which allowed the dome to not be compromised by its mass.
The location and style of the pantheon is a testament to the building’s importance at the time of its completion by Emperor Hadrian. Being located in the heart of Rome near the imperial palace, the coliseum and the Circus Maximus demonstrates the emotional weight and importance of the building to Emperor Hadrian (Meeks). The proximity of the building to these other triumphs of Roman ingenuity and architectural achievements played into the Emperor’s ideal of creating a structure of magnificence and deserving of respect.
Since the Pantheon was created as a temple to worship the pagan gods and goddesses of Rome, its location in the center of the city was also a functional aspect to make it more accessible to the peoples of Rome. Originally intended as a temple to honor and worship the pagan deities of ancient Rome, the Pantheon was later converted into a Christian temple in part due to the overwhelming popularity of the growing Christian religion (Joost-Gaugier). Even to this day the dome of the Pantheon is the largest unreinforced concrete dome on Earth.
Although the posterity of the Pantheon has changed over the millennia it has been standing, the overall purpose of the structure has somewhat remained theologically charged and not secular. Its original purpose for the pagan deities of Rome was strongly enforced by Emperor Hadrian. It has been well documented that Emperor Hadrian did not approve of Judaism or Christianity so it is somewhat ironic how the Pantheon was later converted into a Christian establishment. The style of the Pantheon is clearly a factor regarding its prominence as a building worthy of recognition.
The Pantheon follows for the most part the orders of classic architecture (Mark and Hutchinson). The columns located on the portico are Corinthian in style. The facade of the Pantheon is clearly influenced by classic Greek architecture. However the pitch of the roof on the portico is clearly steeper than those of similar constructions of the time. This was not attributed to Hadrian’s influence over the structure for Marcus Agrippa was the original creator of the existing portico.
Hadrian undertook the rotunda of the existing pantheon and the two were joined together as one. Although the building follows some of the formats of classic architecture it was entirely unprecedented at the time of its completion. The various enhancements and decorative, as well as functional, features of the Pantheon have facilitated an interesting structure which demands attention to detail. For instance, the considerable size of the oculus at nine meters wide provides a circle of light to illuminate key areas of the interior space as the day progresses.
Furthermore, the diameter of the dome is exactly equal to the height of the building of the Pantheon at forty three and three tenths meters (Bernedetti). This mathematical undertaking allows the possibility of a perfect sphere to fit inside the Pantheon. Furthermore, the oculus is not covered by any glass or cupola structure to block the elements of nature. When it rains, the interior of the Pantheon is affected, but due to the clever layout of the floor the Pantheon is capable of evacuating the liquid without any form of mechanical or pneumatic pumps (Bernedetti).
The pantheon accomplishes this chore by the four different marbles comprising the surface with a convex curvature thereby allowing the rain to flow into a series of drainage holes (Bernedetti). This is yet another example of the seemingly minute but very functionally effective aspects of the Pantheon which help solidify the structure as a lasting gem of architecture. This fact is further abetted by the truly massive bronze doors adorning the structures facade. The Pantheon is Rome’s best preserved building from classical antiquity with a largely unchanged exterior with the doors remaining original (Bernedetti).
The front portico of the Pantheon was “given space to breathe” while still dominating the Piazza della Rotonda (bernedetti). Many exotic materials were imported to Rome to complete the Pantheon. Such material as Egyptian granite were sent to create the sixteen columns embellishing the portico of the Pantheon while providing the necessary function of holding up the top of the facade (Bernedetti). Almost two hundred decades of nature and history have elapsed and the Pantheon has withstood the test of time in stride.
Although some critics view the Pantheon as a hastily completed structure built for a politically charged event involving Emperor Hadrian (as stated by Norman Hammondin), its importance will remain as the basis for many years to come due to its employment of so many architectural ideals. Hammondin also states that the Pantheon was never honored like other famed Roman buildings by being illustrated on certain forms of currency. Although some of the history veiling the true intentions and inauguration of the Pantheon will most likely never be revealed, the structure will forever remain a grand example of the past architecture of antiquity.
Although the brilliance of the Pantheon is clearly palpable its creation was influenced by other structures worthy of recognition as well. Similar artwork/architecture from the time of the Pantheon is the octagonal room of the Domus Aurea (refer to figure 1) circa 70 CE (Eusebius). Very plain in nature, the Domus Aurea is clearly an inspiration for the grandeur and stateliness of Emperor Hadrian’s Pantheon. The structure features a round room of rather plain construction supporting a dome.
The dome is clearly not to the scale and magnitude of the Pantheon’s comparatively gargantuan dome, but the Domus Aurea is clearly a structure worthy of recognition if only for its importance and inspiration towards the Pantheon. The Domus Aurea also features an open air oculus very similar to the Pantheon’s. the major similarities of these two structures are evident, but the functional aspect of each are diverse. The Domus Aurea was Nero’s Golden house established to give comfort for a single seemingly insane man while the Pantheon was created in order to honor the seven deities of Rome.
The Pantheon has been congealed into the annals of dome architecture as being an exceptionally brilliant construction. Although the Pantheon is a marvel of ingenuity and a sign of the architectural achievements of the ancient Roman world, the dome atop the rotunda is the focal point of attention by those whom view it (Fazio, Moffet and Wodehouse). Everything from the overall size of the dome to the smallest detail of its coffers emits an air of intrigue and curiosity. The unprecedented nature and undertaking of such a massive unreinforced dome is still an epic achievement to this day.
It is no coincidence that the Pantheon is located in one of the more historically rich regions of Europe. The architectural prowess of the Romans has proved to be one of immense understanding, innovation and adaptation to building methods and ideas for advancing architecture. The sheer ambition involved in the undertaking demonstrates the mastery of the designers, architects and builders involved with the commencement and completion of the structure. It has been stated through modern psychology that humans are attracted to the idea of the symmetric circle.
Evidence of this is provided through the development of such configurations as the first wheel and the construction of various mandalas by Buddhist monks. The structure of the dome is no different in its essence, and the Pantheon captures the seemingly perfect symmetry of the hemispherical dome. For almost two thousand years the Pantheon has remained the largest unreinforced concrete dome throughout the entire world of architecture. While the endeavor for dome architecture has been firmly rooted throughout our modern architectural history, the Pantheon has remained the basis for influential dome architecture.
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