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The tour starts in front of the Pantheon at the fountain in the piazza. We then walk west to Piazza Navonna, then turn south and walk to what was 2, 000 years ago the heart of the ancient city. When you are finished you will have seen all the ancient Rome "must-sees" and some other, lesser known but still quite interesting sites.
Using your other, more detailed map of Rome, proceed to the Piazza della Rotonda, the piazza in front of the Pantheon (la Rotonda in Italian). Stand by the little fountain in the piazza with your back to the Pantheon. The neighborhood you are standing in is what in ancient times was called the Campus Martius - The Martian Fields. The Pantheon (5) was one of a dozen or so buildings in this area. Were you to be transported back to those days, you'd be in the middle of a portico. Directly to your left were the Baths of Nero (2). Beyond them to the west was the Stadium of Domitian (1), now Piazza Navonna.
To your right, the Temple of Matidia (3) (the only known temple to a deified mother-in-law) and immediately to the east, the Temple of Hadrian (4), who deified his mother-in-law. A section is still visible, but the tour doesn't include it (but it is an optional destination). It's now a part of the old Borsa, the stock exchange.
Behind you and to your right was the Saepta (6), an area used by citizens of the Roman Republic for voting. Directly behind the Pantheon a few hundred meters was Agrippa's Baths (7). These were the oldest baths in the city, built by Augustus' brother-in-law between 25 BC and 19 BC. They were originally private, but after Agrippa's death he willed them to the entire citizenry.
Behind Agrippa's Baths was what is now called the Largo Argentina Sacred Area (8) and next to that was Pompey's Theater complex (9a the theater and 9b, the portico). Some other buildings then in existence were the Theater of Balbus (10), the Porticus of Minucia (11) and Diocletian's Odeon (12).
Now, let's face this beautiful, incredible building. The Pantheon was originally a temple built by Agrippa and then "remodeled" by Hadrian. It was most likely completely rebuilt by Hadrian, who considered himself a very artsy-fartsy type guy. He was a classy guy, too, since he left the original inscription on the front, which reads "M(arcus) Agrippa L(ucius) F(ilus) Cos Tertium Fecit" and can be translated as "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, built it." The pronaos - the front part - consists of a row of eight gray granite columns in front and a series of four columns in two rows inside. The pavement was lower in ancient times (you can see how low on the left side of the building). The large rectangular structure placed on top towards the dome's edge serves no structural purpose, but it blocked the sight lines to the dome.
Thus when one walked inside, the domed space had an enormous impact as you'll soon see.
The roof is bare now, but until the 16th century it was covered with bronze tiles. One of the Barbarini popes removed the tiles and used them for the baldachino in St Peter's. I told you Romans were recyclers! As you approach, think about this; for hundreds of years, the pronaos of this magnificent building sheltered Rome's fish market. As you walk into the building, stop for a moment and examine the huge bronze doors. These are original; they've been on those hinges and mounted in that doorframe for nearly 2, 000 years. I think that's worth thinking about, too.
As you enter the building, you will be stunned by the space above you. This is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. No modern structure exceeds it. It is 150 Roman feet across (approximately 44 meters) and sits on a drum that's 75 Roman feet high. The result is a perfect proportion; a sphere inside a cylinder.
The Pantheon was consecrated as a temple honoring all the gods, but especially Mars and Venus, the two protectors of the Gens Iulia - the Julian extended family (and thus the emperors). In 609 AD Pope Boniface IV transformed it into the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres, thus ensuring its preservation. Take a few minutes to look around. The floor is a spectacular example of opus sectile, a typical Imperial Roman flooring style. Note also the dome's coffering and think about the compression force that the ring around the oculus (the hole in the dome center) is experiencing.
I love the Pantheon. It captures everything that is magnificent about the ancient Romans and shows the foresight their inheritors had in preserving it. I visit it every time I come to Rome and it is by far my favorite place in the city.
We'll go to Domitian's Stadium next. Head out of the Pantheon and head for the northwest corner (the one in front of you and to your left, Via Giustiniani). You can wander the neighborhood, eventually ending up at Corso Rinascimento. Turn right, heading north. At Piazza Cinque Lune turn left and walk to the bank building, crossing the piazza's small access street. Don't go into the piazza yet.