Written on October 28th, 2018
Published on March 12th, 2019
The next morning (October 14th), we woke up in our hotel in Rome and headed over to the “Altare della Patria”, or Altar of the Fatherland. On the way, we passed by the Colosseum again and some additional ruins from the Roman period.
The Altare della Patria is a relatively new building, comparatively speaking – it was designed in 1885 and completed in 1925 and was built to honor the first king of unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel. Inside is the museum of Italian Unification. It also has Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame, like the ones at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and at Arlington National Cemetery for President Kennedy. The building is a massive structure, it’s actually the largest monument in Rome. It can be seen from pretty far away, as it sits on a hill and stands out quite a bit.
Kelly and I then walked over to the Pantheon, but since it wasn’t open yet, we kept walking to the Piazza Navona. This piazza is very long and narrow, with large fountains and an Egyptian obelisk. After some time there, we walked back to the Pantheon and got breakfast as we waited for it to open.
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple which has been in use since Roman times (it was built around 126 AD). Because of that, it’s in great shape and has been well preserved. Since it was built, and even today, the Pantheon’s dome is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, with a height of 142 feet and a diameter of 142 feet. In the center of the dome is an oculus – a central opening to the sky.
The engineers who built the Pantheon were very smart and had some clever solutions to build the dome. The lead architect/engineer was Agrippa, who also helped build the Pont de Gard aqueduct in France. At the base of the dome, the dome is almost 20 feet thick – at the top, it’s only 5 feet thick – meaning there is a very strong foundation, with less and less weight as the height increases. They also changed the mixture of concrete they used as height increased, using lighter materials for the aggregate, to further reduce weight. The oculus at the top of the Pantheon also helps to reduce weight (as there is no concrete there) and acts as a compression ring to distribute compression forces. Even with all this, they still ran into some problems due to the foundation settling unevenly – it caused some cracking in the foundation. Because of this, they reinforced the dome by building an additional ring of supports, which also helped to distribute the weight of the dome more evenly – almost 1900 years later, it seems like this solution worked. The iconic front of the building has Roman columns and has inspired many other architects.
Initially the line to enter was quite long, but a few minutes after it opened, we were able to walk right in. The building has a cylindrical shape until halfway up, where the dome begins. The oculus is pretty surprising to see in person – and to image that this building has been open to the environment for almost 1900 years.
The name “Pantheon” implies that this building was built to honor all gods, but the meaning is disputed. Either way, in the medieval period, the Pantheon was converted to a Christian church. Since then, numerous important people have been buried there, including the painter Raphael and two of the Kings of Italy.
We still had a fill day ahead of us though, so we left the Pantheon, went back to our hotel, packed up our bags, and headed to the train station. Italy also has high speed trains, which makes traveling extremely easy. After a little over an hour on the train, we were in Naples!