Pantheon of Rome. The Egyptian challenge


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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Sabines, a name which was since always part of my vocabulary. But, I never did much thought to its origin. For me it was the name of premises in the university campus where I used to party. The parties were cool. Quite cool. This year while sightseeing in Louvre I had however a kind of eureka feeling about this name.

The Louvre. Paris.

The Intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David

Being in an art gallery I have a habit to choose one piece or two that I like, make a photograph to better remember the visit and the place. You cannot simply remember it all. One of the paintings I liked much, quite a huge one, was the Intervention of the Sabine women by Jaques-Louis David, one of the greatest French masters, who lived in times of the first French revolution and the Napoleonic times.

Sabines are a part of legends around the Kingdom of Rome (the predecessor of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire >>>). As Romulus, the first king of Rome established the city, it was only him and his warriors. To settle down they needed wives. So, Romulus and his warriors went on a quest and kidnapped women of a tribe called Sabine, who lived not that far from Rome. Sometime later the Sabine men raided Rome to free their women. But those were already wives and mothers, not keen to leave their new homes. So they placed themselves between the fighting parties, a scene depicted by David on his famous painting. There are some other versions of this legend in circulation, but as all annals of the Kingdom of Rome were lost in an enemy raid, we cannot confirm whether this legend is a historical fact or not. Sabine tribe is however historically confirmed.

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