- The Roman Pantheon -
What is extraordinary about the Pantheon is not only its architecture or external beauty, but also the fact that it represents a true cultural revolution. It was the first temple built for the common people.
Today, this could seem an obvious concept, but in ancient times temples were forbidden places, only for vestals and priests. The term temple comes from the Latin templum, which means "delimited space"; inside was sacred; temples were conceived to be beautiful and imposing outside and everyone was denied access; the penalty for access was death.
The Pantheon overturns this concept and for the first time the idea of a place of worship open to everyone was conceived, where the faithful could spiritually communicate with the Gods. The Pantheon can be considered the forerunner of all subsequent places of worship to be built in the world such as churches, synagogues or mosques.
In the VII century, the Pantheon was turned into a church dedicated to Mary and the martyrs, a fact that guaranteed, at least partially, its preservation. In the XVI century, Pope Urban VIII, from the princely Barberini family, decided to remove all the bronze covering from the pronaos ceiling and to use it for other purposes: one part was used to forge 80 canons for the papal fortress of Castle Sant'Angelo; the rest was used for a real masterpiece. This remaining part was used by Bernini to create the splendid baldachin of St Peter's which overhangs the papal altar in the centre of the basilica.
This episode, together with the various thefts of building material that occurred in those years to monuments of ancient Rome, consigned the Barberini family to history with the famous saying: "What the barbarians didn't do to Rome, the Barberini did". During the same period, by the Pope's wishes, Bernini tried to highlight the clerical character of the structure by creating two bell towers at the sides of the pronaos, nicknamed by the Romans "ass' ears"; they were eliminated in the XIX century.
The Pantheon is also a national Mausoleum; it is the resting place of the Italian Royal family and some great Renaissance artists including Raffaello. Yet again the Pantheon is the forerunner of several other famous buildings, like that of the same name in Paris or Westminster Abbey.
Today, the square holding this ancient masterpiece "Piazza della Rotonda" is one of the most popular places in the city. It was built during the papacy of Clement XI by knocking down several buildings.