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August 16, 2010

The Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

The Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome are acknowledged to be wonderful architectural pieces which performed the great religious purpose. The time and effort that went into the building process of those architectural monuments display the cultural emphasis on quality and perfectionism. Additionally the placement of the buildings in a prominent location in central Rome outlines the importance given to the worship and honoring of God.
The Pantheon is the best-preserved of Rome’s ancient temples and the only one which is still used as a place of worship. The word “Pantheon” is Greek meaning to honor all gods (Pinto 44). The Pantheon was originally completed or dedicated, according to its inscription, in 27 B.C., by Augustus’ friend, general, colleague, and son-in-law, Agrippa, victor over Antony and Cleopatra at Actium (Pinto 46). Surrounded by the hum of modern Roman life, its time-blackened mass, with the forest of dark columns which forms its portico confronts the visitor at unexpected moments with a sudden vision of immemorial age. The narrow streets leading to it seem to deflect the eye rather than to attract it toward the great building lost in their labyrinth.
The temple was dedicated especially to Mars and Venus, the patrons of the Julian family, to which Caesar and Augustus belonged; statues of these deities were set among those in the niches of the interior. The statue of Venus in this temple, according to Pliny, wore in her ears the cut halves of one of two famous pearls which had belonged to Cleopatra; the queen had dissolved and drunk the other, says the author, to win a wager from Antony (Dutemple 55).
The Pantheon was burned twice; after the second fire, about A.D. 110, it was completely rebuilt by Hadrian in A.D. 124, who, scrupulous about claiming for himself a structure which he had merely rebuilt, had the original inscription bearing the names of Agrippa and his father copied on the new building (Pinto 77).
Septimius Severus made repairs in the third century, but on the whole it is Hadrian’s brick-faced concrete structure which stands today, with its forest of grey and red granite columns, forty-six feet high, surmounted by Corinthian capitals of time-grayed marble (Gorman 121). Bronze tiles once covered the outside of its dome and a bronze cornice still surrounds the circular opening in its centre. Walls and dome stand as in imperial days, but the marble facings of the interior are gone, and of the ancient glitter of bronze only the cornice around the opening in the dome and the bronze-covered doors of the vestibule remain (Gorman 143). In 663 the Byzantine emperor Constans II carried away the tiles from the dome, and in the seventeenth century the bronze roof trusses of the portico were melted down and recast (Pinto 165).
The pagan temple was already a Christian church when its shining tiles were removed. Phocas gave the temple to the church; Boniface was the pope who received it. In 609 it had been dedicated to Mary and All Saints or Martyrs under the name of Sancta Maria and Martyres. The Pantheon has achieved an added fame as the burial place for artists, including Raphael, and for the kings and queens of United Italy.
St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the holiest places and one of the most ancient Christian monuments. Similar to the Pantheon that was first completed by Agrippa and then rebuilt by Hadrian, St. Peter’s Basilica was first built in 324 by Emperor Constantine and then rebuilt in 1506. Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity as the official religion and chose the place for basilica where the Circus of Nero was located. The Circus of Nero was the site of martyrdoms of Christians (Letarouilly 33). It is believed that St. Peter , one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, was crucified in this spot (the Circus of Nero). It is considered that the tomb of Peter is located beneath altar in the basilica.
The old basilica of St. Peter’s, built in haste, in a bad age, was fast falling to decay; and, notwithstanding that it was larger than any Medieval cathedral, it still was felt to be unworthy of being the principal church of Europe. In consequence of this, Pope Nicholas V. commenced a new building, from the designs of Rosselino , on such a scale as would — had it been completed — have made it the greatest and most splendid cathedral of Europe (Letarouilly 76). His designs have not been preserved, and the only part which was executed was the western tribune, which occupied the same place as the present one, but was only raised a few feet out of the ground when the Pope died in 1454 (Letarouilly 78).
There the matter seems to have rested for more than half a century, and no one seems to have thought of carrying out the conception of Nicholas, till the project was revived by Pope Julius II in 1506. Bramante , who was then in the plenitude of his practice and the zenith of his fame, was instructed to prepare the designs (Wittmann 39).
The foundation-stone of this great church was laid in the year 1506, and the works were carried on with the greatest activity during the following seven or eight years. On the death of Pope Julius II., in 1513, and that of his architect in the following year, the celebrated Raphael was appointed to succeed him. Although that great painter was an accomplished architect, in the sense in which that term was then becoming understood, the task he was now appointed to was as little suited to his taste as to his abilities. So great had been the haste of the late Pope, and so inconsiderate the zeal of his architect, that, though the great piers which were to support the dome had only been carried to such a height as to enable the arches to be turned which were to join them, they already showed signs of weakness, and it was evident they must either be rebuilt from the basement, or very considerably reinforced, if ever a dome was to be placed oil them (Wittmann 99). While men were disputing what was best to be done, Raphael died, and Baldassare Peruzzi was appointed to succeed him as architect.
Peruzzi, fearing that the work would never be completed on the scale originally designed, determined at once to abandon the nave of Bramante, and reduced the original design of building established by Bramante. He reduced the building to a square enclosing a Greek cross; designed the angles filled in with square sacristies, which were to be each surmounted by a dome of about one-third the diameter of the great one, being in fact the arrangement then and subsequently so universal in the Russian churches (Gorman 76). Before much was, done, however, he died, in 1536, and was succeeded by the celebrated Antonio Sangallo .
All Sangallo’s time, and all the funds he could command, were employed in strengthening the piers of the great dome, and in remedying the defects in construction introduced by his predecessors. His design, besides, does not seem to have met with much favour among his contemporaries, and with the greatest opposition from Michael Angelo , whose criticism was that it was broken into too many parts, and with an infinity of columns would convey the idea of a Gothic building rather than of an antique or Classical one (Letarouilly 100).
At Sangallo’s death, in 1546, the control of the works fell into the hands of Michael Angelo; and although he did not and could not alter either the plan or general arrangement of his predecessors to any material extent, he determined at once to restrict the church to the form of a Greek cross, as proposed by Peruzzi and Raphael, and he left everywhere the impress of his giant hand upon it. It is to him that we owe certainly the form of the dome, and probably the ordinance of the whole of the exterior (Wittmann 111). The only part of his design which he left unfinished was the eastern portico.
During the pontificate of Paul V. it was suggested that the building should be restored to the form of a Latin cross, as originally suggested by Bramante. This idea was finally carried into effect by Carlo Maderno , a very second-class architect, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, who designed the entrance (Gorman 155). Thus, construction of the basilica was completed in 1615.
Thus, we can see that many architects worked on construction of St. Peter’s Basilica proposing their own design and constantly changing the structure of the building. Unlike St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon has been designed under supervision of Emperor Hadrian who rebuilt the old building using the main elements of the plan of the Pantheon developed by Agrippa.
The Pantheon was innovative for its time. It is the first temple to combine concrete construction with the more conservative and decorative use demonstrated by the Greeks (Pinto 133). This structure is proportioned like a circle within a square. It’s a hemispherical dome that sits upon a cylindrical drum. One can also recognize the influence of the Greeks in the artist’s outer and inner use of great columns. The Romans did admire and try to imitate the Greeks. Inside, the Pantheon contains a single vast space, heavily detailed walls and ceiling, and beautiful marble flooring. In spite of this outstanding beauty, the most notable feature is the illumination of the building by the open oculus at the top of the dome. While uncovered in the past and today closed with a plate of glass, this opening in the roof is precisely the trait that supplies the Pantheon with its uniqueness and character.
The Pantheon reveals not only Roman genius for construction, in roofing this 140-foot circle so simply with one great dome, but also Roman skill in treating a tremendous interior in such a way as to emphasize both its vastness and its unity. Approached by a deep porch, once covered with a bronze vaulted ceiling supported on great bronze girders and trusses, the entrance doorway, twenty feet wide and forty high, with its original bronze doors and transom-screen, leads the visitor at once into the great enclosed space. The thick walls required to support the thrust of the dome are lightened by four great niches, one containing the doorway, the others altars to the major deities, and each separated from the central area by a screen of columns. Smaller shrines decorate the walls between, and all the wall surface up to the entablature which runs over the columns is sheathed in rich marbles laid in beautiful decorative geometric shapes. Above the entablature runs a frieze once decorated with a continuous row of small pilasters, instead of the awkward Renaissance false windows and panels which now occupy the area. Above this the perfect hemisphere of the dome sweeps upward, its curve emphasized by deep coffers, to a central oculus or opening thirty feet in diameter that lights the whole (Dutemple 70).
The magnificent quality of the resultant simple vertical light, which seems to bathe the whole interior so evenly and yet to emphasize so forcefully the shadowed recesses of the shrines and the niches, is something no photograph or drawing can reproduce. The whole shows how brilliantly the Roman architects conceived and realized that quality which we moderns call space. It is this quality of spaciousness, this sense of enormous areas and great heights, well lighted and nevertheless closed in from the weather and the surroundings, which is perhaps the most unique of all Roman architectural qualities. It is this which none of the previous architectures had ever approached or perhaps even dreamed of; and it is this quality which set all design on a new search for interior architectural beauty.
The Pantheon had impact upon design of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Both buildings are the examples of arched construction (structures in which arches and vaults play pre-eminent parts). In arched construction there is much greater freedom of mass design; buildings may have some parts much higher than others, and domes and barrel roofs may cap the whole (Gorman 78). Wider and higher interiors, of great variety of shape, may develop highly complex plans, in which support and buttress and wide span all combine to give impressions of tremendous and varied interior spaces, as in the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica. Lines of arched frame establish rows of posts or columns. Arched construction is characterized by buttresses which are often quite deep, to take arch thrusts; walls which are minimized, both in length; large openings; enormous windows and accent on verticality (Gorman 88). The arched frame determines all major architectural lines. Buttresses and flying buttresses accent the structural pattern.
The architects of the Renaissance that designed St. Peter’s Basilica sought for a dome that was more like the dome of the Pantheon. The Pantheon dome is merely a hemispherical vault, built in rings of stone or brick, with the joints between the rings radiating from the center, and the joints of each ring also necessarily radiating as well (Dutemple 81). Thus, the completion of each ring makes a self-supporting unit, because, owing to the wedge shape of the elements of which it is combined, no one of them can collapse inward; it is this quality which enabled the Romans to build domes with its great “eye” or circular opening in the center. For the architects of St. Peter’s Basilica it was necessary at the same time to have a high dome to give external effect because of the length of their churches. Consequently a dome of two or even three shells was developed, in which the interior dome was proportioned with sole reference to interior effect, and the exterior dome with sole reference to exterior effect (Moffett 143). Between these two shells there was sometimes a third, built to carry the weight of the “lantern,” the small, many-windowed cupola which took the place of the “eye” of the Roman dome. Such domes may be seen not only in St. Peter’s in Rome, but, also, in St. Paul’s in London, in the Panthéon and Les Invalides in Paris, and in many American state capitols.
The architecture that went into the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica is truly breathtaking. Architecturally the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica have held up remarkably well and today are frequently visited by tourists. The Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica are indeed the outstanding pieces of architecture and have withstood the tests of time. While societies’ meaning for the Pantheon has changed, it continues to exemplify the values of the Roman Empire. The meaning of St. Peter’s Basilica has not changed over centuries. It represents the grandiosity of the Church and the continuation of Christian traditions. Even though both buildings were originally designed for different purposes their architecture emphasizes the superior power of God over the ordinary status of human beings
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