The following article appears on The Local.
Long free to enter, Rome’s iconic Pantheon will start charging visitors to enter this week. These facts might convince you the $2.50 ticket is worth it.
As Italy’s Ministry of Culture announced last year, from May 2nd the Pantheon will introduce an entry fee to help cover the costs of maintaining the ancient building which, with more than 7 million visitors per year, it’s one of Italy’s most-viewed monuments.
While the new policy ends thousands of years of the landmark being free to all, we promise you it’s still worth a visit.
Here are just some of the things that make the Pantheon one of Italy’s most incredible monuments.
1. Legend says it was where Rome’s founder died
The legend goes that Romulus, the mythical founder and first king of Rome, died on the spot where the Pantheon now stands. He was supposedly grasped by an eagle and flown to heaven, giving the site sacred associations with the city’s history and its gods.
2. There was an even older one
The Pantheon you see today is not the first structure on that site. The original temple was built around 25 BC by Roman consul Marcus Agrippa, whose name you can still make out on the façade. Archaeologists now believe his version was destroyed and rebuilt, possibly more than once. The building as it stands is generally attributed to Emperor Hadrian, who is thought to have had it redesigned and completed nearly 1,900 years ago.
3. Its dome is bigger than St. Peter’s
The Pantheon’s age is all the more remarkable when you consider what astonishing skill went into creating its curved roof. You might not think so at first glance, but its dome is wide than the one atop St. Peter’s Basilica by almost two meters (though St. Peter’s rises higher).
At 43.3 meters in diameter, the dome remains the world’s largest unreinforced concrete structure of its kind to this day. Its ancient architects cleverly lightened the weight of the roof, starting with thick travertine bulked up by bricks, then thinner terracotta tiles followed by lightweight tufa and pumice at the top. At the highest point, the oculus – the nine-metre-wide circular hole in the roof – actually saves crucial weight at the dome’s most vulnerable point.
It’s also exactly as high as it is wide, meaning that the interior of the Pantheon perfectly fits a 43.3m-diameter sphere.
4. No, it doesn’t flood when it rains
You think the Romans built a dome that big and didn’t remember to put in a drainage system?
Take a closer look at the paved floor: some of the slabs have small holes running through them, which allow any rainwater to drain through to sewers below.
What’s more, when the Pantheon was filled with lit candles as it would have been during its past, the flames produced an upwards current of warm air that would cause falling rain to evaporate before reaching the floor.
5. Parts of it came from Egypt
The 16 granite columns were quarried in Egypt, in the mountains near the Red Sea, then dragged to the Nile, sailed up the river, across the Mediterranean, and along the Tiber before finally being pulled into place. For context: each one weighs 60 tons.