Monday, July 13, 2009
NUMBER 4 -- PANTHEON
The Pantheon is a hard thing to describe or photograph in a way that captures its real life beauty. The outside of the building looks all of its 2,000 years. Barbarians, the Barbarinis (an inside joke which apparently requires you to be both Roman and a student of the Renaissance Papacy), and the Romans themselves have through the last millennium or so hacked off almost all of its outer shell of marble. The inside, however, is another matter altogether. Through the pure serendipity of barbarian greed for pagan gold and finery, the inside of the Pantheon has evolved even more into a sublime expression of architectural simplicity. It is the essence of a dome. Unfortunately, most structural emulators have failed to make this connection through the centuries: when it comes to domes, austere simplicity is better.
The result: what you do not think about when viewing the Pantheon's dome is its engineering virtuosity. There are no visible arches or vaults holding up the dome to distract the viewer. The mathematics are equally as simple. For example, the diameter is precisely equal to its height. And, to this day it is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in history.
What you DO think about is its other-worldliness and unexplainable beauty, only made more pronounced by the 9 meter hole opened it is middle. The light streaming in through the hole moves throughout the day with the rotation of the earth recreating the Pantheon's look every few minutes.
One of our most memorable half hours in Rome was spent simply standing and watching the rain and hail come in through the hole and disappear down the Pantheon's ancient drainage system. Sun, rain, hail, darkness -- all a fitting tribute to the pantheon of gods, who the ancients endowed with personifications of these natural phenomena.