Visiting the Pantheon is a must when in Rome, and if you don’t want to actually go inside, unless you decide to avoid the historic center of the city entirely, you will at some point or another – and in fact, quite often! – happen to pass by.
Rome’s Pantheon is a magnificent sight. The rather imposing structure faces one of the prettiest squares in Rome – Piazza della Rotonda. This is one of the most iconic landmarks in the Eternal City, together with the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain.
Are you curious to discover the history of the Pantheon, its significance and want to get practical information to plan your visit and make the most of it? Continue reading then – this happens to be one of my favorite places in Rome, and in this post I will tell you everything you need to know before visiting the Pantheon.
Why Visit The Pantheon
Dating back to 27 BC, the Pantheon has almost always been a part of the Roman cityscape. It’s set among the historic cobbled streets, and is always impressive to stumble upon. And not only is it an iconic must-see landmark in the city, it has historic and architectural value that still wows visitors to this day. This is the place to come to learn about Rome’s ancient religion.
The History Of The Pantheon
The Pantheon is an ancient Roman temple that actually takes its inspiration from the (much) earlier Ancient Greek temples. In fact, it even takes its name from Ancient Greek: pan meaning “all” and theon meaning “gods”. By extension, the name means “Temple of All Gods”.
A temple was originally built here during the early reign of Emperor Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD) by Marcus Agrippa. It was part of an extensive building program carried out under Agrippa after the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.
The original temple, however, was actually completely destroyed – apart from the facade. The date of when it was rebuilt is unknown. The main theory is that Emperor Hadrian (76 to 138 AD), who apparently oversaw its construction, retained the Latin inscription on the front of the temple which reads, in English:
“Marcus Agrippa, Son of Lucius, made (this building) when consul for the third time.”
Presumably, Hadrian wanted to keep the building as close to the original as possible – and that included the inscription.
The other, newer theory, is that work on the reconstruction of the Pantheon was carried out under Emperor Trajan (53 – 117 AD) instead. Bricks were marked with his imperial seal which dates the bricks to the 110s. In this case the rebuilding of the Pantheon is thought to have been a final work to cement Trajan’s legacy, though Hadrian evidently presided over the finishing touches of the project.
Another mystery is whether or not the Pantheon was ever used as a temple at all. While it is decorated with statues of Roman gods – Venus, Mars, etc. – some scholars believe that it is not a temple in the traditional sense, but more of an Imperial sanctuary. It is considered that around the time of its original construction there was a “leader cult” starting up surrounding both Julius Caesar and the first Roman emperor, Augustus. It was a display of the emperor’s power and authority rather than a place to worship gods.
Whatever it was, the Pantheon was not to remain a pagan site. On May 13th, 609 AD, under the Byzantine Emperor Phocas (547 – 610 AD), it was given to Pope Boniface IV and consecrated, becoming a Christian church: St Mary and the Martyrs. It got its name due to the relics of various Christian martyrs that were taken from the catacombs and buried beneath the Pantheon at this time.
Because of this, the Pantheon was actually saved from much of the destruction that befell many of the other pagan sites throughout the city – but it wasn’t entirely unscarred. In 663, Emperor Constans II (630 – 668 AD) visited Rome and ordered that many ancient buildings be stripped of their metals and marbles. It is said that he stripped the “bronze tiles” from the Pantheon’s roof and shipped them to Constantinople. Over the centuries, much of the Pantheon’s splendor has been removed – its external marble paneling, for example, as well as marble columns.
By the Renaissance, the Pantheon became the site of a long list of high profile burials including the likes of Raphael and the composer Corelli. Around this time, the Pantheon was decorated anew with paintings. It was also an inspiration for many architectural projects at the time, too, with the dome in particular directly inspiring the huge dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Today, the Pantheon is the final resting place for two kings of Italy, and was supposed to be the final resting place for all the monarchy before it was abolished in 1946. It may surprise you to learn that the Pantheon is actually still used as a Catholic church; masses are held on Sundays and holy days, and sometimes even weddings take place there.
Main Attractions To Spot When Visiting The Pantheon, Rome
The pronaos (portico)
The Roman Pantheon offers up a glimpse into the intricate world of Roman architecture. This starts with the pronaos or portico. This is the entrance to the temple. Originally the Pantheon would have been located above ground level, and would have been approached via the use of steps. However, over the years different construction projects have meant that the ground around the Pantheon has been raised, with the portico now sitting at ground level.
Prior to it being stripped of its materials, the pediment (that is the triangular space above the columns) is thought to have been decorated by a gilded bronze relief sculpture. Look closely and you’ll be able to see the holes in the walls where clamps would have held the sculpture in place. One theory is that it was a sculpture of the Imperial eagle set within a wreath.
Elsewhere in the portico, of course you will notice the columns. These gray granite columns were quarried in Egypt in the eastern desert of the country at Mons Claudianus, a quarry used by the Roman Empire. Each of the columns were dragged over 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the quarry on wooden sledges. Each one weighed in at 60 tons and had a length of 11.9 meters (39 feet) and a diameter of 1.5 meters (4.11 feet). They were then floated along the River Nile during spring floods on a barge – an epic journey!
After this they were taken by boat across the Mediterranean to the port of Ostia, where they were conveyed on barges up the River Tiber to their final destination. This was still 700 meters from the Pantheon. The columns were again dragged to the construction site. So when you’re there, consider the crazy journey these columns have made to get here today.
Another thing to note at the portico are the huge bronze doors. You can’t not notice them. These doors are actually the oldest of their kind in Rome. They were thought to have been a 15th-century replacement, but further analysis has confirmed they are the original 1,900-year-old Roman doors.
Once they enter the Pantheon, the first thing most people do is look upwards. It’s an awe-inspiring sight that continues to wow.
Weighing in at 4,535 tons, the Roman concrete dome is a testament to Roman engineering. The structure is created using a number of intersecting arches, which in turn sit on eight piers. The arches line up with eight bays around the floor of the Pantheon; these play host to statues. The use of arches helps to hold the weight of the enormous dome up above.
As well as ancient concrete (still not crumbling!), the dome of the Pantheon is made out of travertine at its thickest points, then as it curves upwards the material shifts to terracotta tiles, with tuff (a rock made out of volcanic ash) and pumice at the top.
But the cherry on top in terms of genius engineering is the oculus. This round hole at the top of the dome is not just an atmospheric place for light to spill through; it’s actually situated at the point where the dome would have been most vulnerable to collapse, and therefore lightens the load. It’s one of many pieces of architectural trickery that make the Pantheon so impressive.
Today, the Pantheon still holds the record for the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
Entering into the Pantheon also means that visitors will be greeted by a large spacious room that’s open to the elements – in two parts only. It’s only the door and the oculus that allow natural light in. Throughout the day, as the sun moves across the sky, light changes in this space. In a kind of reverse sundial, the Pantheon’s interior can mark time with light rather than with shadow.
But the oculus not only offers a striking design detail, it also allows hot air to escape, thereby cooling the space. And during rainstorms, the floor at the base of the oculus is subtly inclined so that water will run off into a drainage system.
There are designs of circles and squares built into the marble floor in a sort of checkerboard pattern. It reflects the squares arranged in concentric circles in the dome, though in an uneven, eye-catching way.
As it is a Catholic church, there are also a number of high altars, apses, and Christian decorations that have been added over the years. There’s a 7th-century Byzantine icon of the Virgin of the Child, given by Emperor Phocas to Pope Boniface IV to celebrate the Pantheon becoming a place of Christian worship.
Artwork and tombs
There are many artistic masterpieces to be found in the Pantheon. For one example, in the first chapel on the left (The Chapel of St. Joseph and the Holy Land), there are paintings located by the side of the altar by Francesco Cozza. There are also a number of 17th-century canvases created by the likes of Giovanni Peruzzini and Francesco Rosa.
Interestingly this particular chapel is also known as the Chapel of the Confraternity of the Virtuosi al Pantheon – a group of artists and musicians formed in the 16th-century to ensure that worship was upheld in the chapel. Members of this group included Bernini, Algardo and Cortona. The confraternity exists to this day, though under the name The Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts.
There are also a number of tombs at the Pantheon. One of the most iconic is that of Raphael, the Renaissance artist and architect.
Practical Info About Visiting The Pantheon, Rome
The Pantheon is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm. The last admission is at 6:30 pm. You will have to reserve your visit a day in advance if you intend to visit during a national holiday or at the weekend.
Note that the Pantheon can be closed on particular national holidays, or if a religious event like a mass – or a wedding – is taking place. In particular, it’s closed on the 1st January and the 25th December.
There are no security screenings at the Pantheon.
While in 2017 the issuing of Pantheon tickets was announced, this remains a free attractions and there currently is no such thing as Pantheon tickets. Visiting the Pantheon is free, and you normally do not need to book in advance (more about this in a bit).
However, you will likely have to join a line that can at times be very long as only up to 160 visitors are allowed inside every 30 minutes.
If you wish to visit the Pantheon at the weekend or during national holidays, advanced bookings are required (and free of charge) via an easy to use app. You can reserve your spot here.
Should you get a guided tour when visiting the Pantheon?
Although Pantheon tickets are free, some people opt to get a guided tour. This offers up a bit more insight into the Pantheon, which you may want considering the architectural engineering and long history of the building – and all the tombs located here!
Another option when visiting the Pantheon is to use the audio guide. This can be picked up at the entrance and costs €8.50 (that’s $9.32 USD). It takes 30 minutes and is available in 9 languages.
Dress code when visiting the Pantheon
As it is a Catholic church, the dress code for visiting the Pantheon is the same as visiting any other Catholic church in Rome. This means bare shoulders, stomachs, and legs (above the knee) should not be on show. Make sure to bring a piece of clothing, such as a shawl or light scarf, to cover up or dress appropriately, otherwise you will likely not be allowed to enter.
Best time to visit
I would recommend avoiding a visit on the weekend unless you reserve your spot via the app, and trying to time your visit to be as early as possible – if you don’t want to share the Pantheon with a lot of people, anyway. Whenever I walk by any time after 11:00 am, the line to walk in is terribly long. Plan to visit at opening hours and you’ll likely get inside in a breeze!
Lines are at their worst from late morning to early afternoon, but start thinning out towards early evening. If you do arrive and there’s a line, just check out the exterior and come back later – or get there earlier another day. Or else, plan to have lunch at the nearby Armando al Pantheon (easily the best restaurant in the area), explore the surroundings after lunch (you can easily get to Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain) and come back towards the early evening.
In terms of the time of year you should visit the Pantheon, I have bad news: Rome is packed with tourists almost throughout the year. If you really want to avoid the largest crowds, plan a winter trip and travel to Rome in January or February. In general, I recommend going outside of the high season (summer, generally).
To really understand how cool the dome and oculus of the Pantheon is, I would also recommend getting a view from above. The nearest place for this is the rooftop bar/restaurant at Hotel Minerva, where you’ll be able to get a side view of the amazing dome from basically the same level.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Hotels Near The Pantheon.
Is photography allowed?
Yes! So bring your camera.
There are no toilets at the Pantheon, unfortunately, but there are plenty of cafés nearby where you can use the toilet.
The surrounding streets can be a little tricky to navigate due to them being cobbled, but once inside the Pantheon it’s not so bad; there’s a small ramp to enter and the floor surfaces inside are smooth.
How to get there
The Pantheon is just a five minute walk from the bustling Piazza Navona, and 10 minutes on foot from Piazza Venezia, so if you’re in the area it’s an easy stroll. Corso/Mingheti, Plebiscito and Argentina bus stops are the best options if you’re traveling from Rome Termini Station; bus numbers 30, 46 and 62 (among others) make their way this way.
If you’re traveling from Trastevere, then you could always travel by tram, getting tram 8 as far as Arenula/Cairoli stop, and walking around 10 minutes from there. Other than that, there are no other nearby tram stops and no metro stations either.
The nearest metro station is Spagna, an easy 15 minutes walk.
These posts may be useful when planning your trip to the Italian Capital:
- The Most Famous Buildings In Rome
- How To See Rome In 3 Days
- The Best Restaurants In Rome
- The Best Free Things To Do In Rome
- The Most Interesting Ancient Sites In Rome