An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XXV

Rome's Pantheon as seen through Fontana del Pantheon, Rome (LEO Design)

Join me on my summer holiday as I travel (mostly) through Italy—as always, in search of beautiful sites, sculpture and all things sculpture-ish. 

I see sculpture all around me: in carved-stone buildings, in carved-stone fountains and in carved-stone monuments. Let's end our Summer Roman Holiday with one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rome, with the fountain in its piazza, and with the ancient obelisk which punctuates that fountain.

The Pantheon was built around 120 AD under the Roman Emperor Hadrian and it was used to honor the pantheon— that is, all of the many Roman gods. One enters through a classical "portico" (like a front porch) and into a large, circular room. It is topped with an enormous rounded dome—the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome (still standing after nearly 2,000 years!). The proportion of the main room (and the shape of the dome) is such that a perfectly spherical (142 foot) ball would touch the dome, the floor and all around the rounded walls. At center of the dome is a 30 foot in diameter "oculas" (or eye hole), allowing the light in and the worshiper's prayers out. The pagan temple was converted to a Christian church in the 7th Century.

In front of the temple is the Piazza della Rotunda and the Fontana del Pantheon. The fountain was designed and built by Filippo Barigioni in 1575 to provide drinking water to the neighborhood through a sophisticated system of terra-cotta pipes. It's important to remember that every Roman fountain—austere or extravagant—was an important and functioning utility. The people did not have indoor plumbing; they walked to the neighborhood fountain to collect their water. That Rome had so many wonderful fountains—piped with fresh, cold water—was undeniable evidence of the sophisticated Roman civilization.

In the center of the fountain stands an Ancient Egyptian obelisk, carved under the Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-1213 BC). It was brought to Rome in antiquity (for a pagan temple), somehow lost & buried, then re-discovered near the Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva in 1374. It was installed in its current spot—in the center of Barigioni's fountain—in 1711.

Change is a constant—and, in Rome, that change has been occurring forever!


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