Pantheon of Rome. The Egyptian challenge

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The Pantheon, Rome. At its front sixteen Corinthian columns ‘made in Egypt’ and transported hundreds of miles to Rome, ancient Rome …


The original Pantheon of Rome was built 27-25 BC by the consul Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. According to Roman mythology it stands on the spot, where Romulus was carried away by an eagle after he died. The original building was however destroyed by fire in 80 AD. It was the emperor Hadrian, who reconstructed the Pantheon in 118-125 AD giving it a new design. Historians say, he was so obsessed with the new interior design that he punished by death the principle architect after a dispute over some technicalities.

After the reconstruction, only the original portico with sixteen Corinthian columns was preserved. As a tribute to  the consul Agrippa an inscription was added at the top saying: M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT, otherwise: “M[arcus] Agrippa L[ucii] f[ilius] co[n]s[ul] tertium fecit”. It means: “Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius consul for the 3rd time built this”.

The massive Corinthian columns supporting the portico are each 12 m tall and 1.5 m in diameter. The column shafts are of granite monoliths that were excavated from two Egyptian quarries. The eight original light grey columns of the front row came from the imperial quarry at Mons Claudianus. The pink column shafts (called pink Aswan) of the middle and back rows came from the Assuan region. They were first dragged many kilometers from the quarries to the Nile river on wooden sledges. Afterwards they were floated by barge down the river when the water level was high enough during the spring floods. Finally they were brought by ship from Egypt to the Roman port of Ostia and further pulled up the Tiber river to Rome on barges. Quite a challenge having in mind that each of the columns weights around sixty tonnes.

As you may however notice on the photo, not all columns in the front row are light grey. In the Middle Ages the left side of the portico was damaged. Three columns had to be replaced. Another challenge. Finally, one replacement came from Villa of Domitian at Castel Gandolfo (its remains belong today to the Papal estate) in 1626 AD. The other two came from the Baths of Nero (Rome, no longer existent) in 1666 AD.


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Cosmati mosaics

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Floor mosaics in the main nave of the Lateran Archbasilica in Rome. 


The mosaics is the so called Cosmati style mosaics. Cosmati were a Roman family of artists. They specialised among others in designing and making of mosaics. You will find them in many churches in Rome.

Lateran Archbasilica, although located far beyond Vatican city belongs to the Holy See (the Vatican state.)


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Just a ceiling

Galeria Borghese, Rome, the marvelous interiors.

The view you may admire if you look up entering the great hall of the Villa Borghese Pinciana in Rome.  I will not speculate on its size, but the fresco is for sure more than 100 meter big. 


Frescoes was a very popular technique used to decorate ceilings and walls in Rome, in ancient times as well as during the Renaissance. It was adopted in many other places  and countries usually in churches, palaces and villas belonging to the rich. The technique was also applied in China and India. The true fresco technique involves painting with a water colour on the wet plaster. If the painter did not manage to put colour onto the plaster before it dried up, the plaster had to be removed and put on once again. Frescoes were also painted with a technique called fresco secco, where the painting was applied on a dry plaster. (Secco stands in Italian for dry, fresco – for fresh). The major difference between a true fresco and the fresco secco is its durability. In case of a true fresco during the drying process the colour becomes part of the plastered wall and this way the fresco painting may preserve longer. True frescoes are not suitable as a painting technique for countries where the climate is wet and cold.