Hello, and welcome to A Road Retraveled. The Pantheon is one of the most visited ancient monuments in Rome and most visitors stop right there.
However, this lovely neighborhood offers more than just this famous ancient Roman pagan temple converted into a Christian church. We’ll find out what’s beyond the Pantheon, as we Roam through Rome’s off the beaten path places.
The Pantheon is a magnificent ancient temple dating back to 27 BC, making it the most well preserved ancient building still in use in Rome!
Dedicated to pan theos, or “all the gods“, it later became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs.
Since the Renaissance time, the Pantheon has been used as a tomb for Italy’s illustrious. Among them is the famous artist Raphael who was buried here immediately after his death, and two Italian Kings: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto’s wife Queen Margherita – after whom the Margherita pizza was named.
But shhhhh, rumor has it, the Pantheon is haunted by none other than King Vittorio Emanuelle. So if you’re a ghost hunter or whisperer, you might want to check out the pantheon’s ghostly presence.
If you’re in the area and it starts to rain, you should definitely come to the Pantheon and see the rain pour through the oculus and watch it fall in the middle of the building and go down the drains. It’s pretty amazing to watch the raindrops falling.
In front of the Pantheon in the middle of Piazza della Rotonda is the Macuteo obelisk, one of the 2 obelisks at the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis. It was rediscovered near San Macuto in the late 1300’s and moved here in 1711 on top of the fountain.
The piazza della Rotonda deserves more than just passing through for a quick peek inside the Pantheon. Surrounded by open air cafes, a supermarket, this is a perfect place to spend a little time. So why not grab a gelato and plop yourself down for a great view of the Pantheon and hang for a while?
Note: since this video was made, McDonald’s has closed shop in Piazza della Rotunda, much to the joy of many! In its place is another restaurant.
Just off Piazza della Rotonda is a small supermarket, which is great since supermarkets around tourist attractions are rare. It’s a perfect place to stop for some bottled water, snacks, toiletries, or ingredients for a perfect sandwich. Little markets like these help keep your food budget down if eating out all the time gets too expensive for you. Because this market IS near a tourist attraction, the prices are a bit higher than in a regular market outside the city’s center.
If you are facing the Pantheon, turn around. There are two streets leading away from the pantheon in this direction, take the one on the right, via del Pantheon. Walk about a block until you come to a little piazza with Ristorante Clemente and a very beautiful, ornate church.
La Maddalena is a jewel of a little known church that is overshadowed by its famous neighbor, the Pantheon.
Santa Maria della Maddalena was built in late 1600’s and dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. Pope Urban VIII granted permission for the space, and the church and piazza were funded privately. When the elaborate façade was created in the 18th century by Giuseppe Sarti, this became the only Rococo church in Rome, and the already tiny piazza is the only space from where you can admire its wedding cake icing façade.
The frecoes in the vault of the nave, dome, transepts, over the chancel and in the apse are from the early 18th century.
Above the second altar on the left side of the nave is a painting of the Madonna holding the Divine Child, by Giordano. Tradition has it, he painted the canvas in just one night. On the right side is a Madonna known as Health to the Sick, from the 15th century.
The fine organ, with a Baroque design, is from 1735.
You know, the front of the Pantheon is the only view we get to see on TV or in photos. I just got curious to see what’s around and behind this massive monument.
The backside of the Pantheon, although stripped of its former marble, has several niches in which they probably displayed statues of Ancient Roman Pagan gods, with the large niche reserved for Jupiter, the Kind of all the pagan gods.
Behind the Pantheon is the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, or Saint Mary Above Minerva, named this way because it was built over the foundations of an ancient Roman temple allegedly dedicated to their pagan goddess Minerva.
While it may not make it to the top of the list of must-see churches in Rome, it IS among the most important churches in Rome. First, this is the only Gothic church you’ll EVER see in Rome.
The obelisk was brought to Rome together with another obelisk from Egypt, to be placed at the nearby temple of Isis by Emperor Diocletian some time in 3rd century AD. Pope Alexander VII commissioned the sculpture to support the obelisk, and it’s said to represent that “a strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge”.
The locals probably did not appreciate the exotic elephant, so they nicknamed it “Porcino”, or Piggy. Eventually the name was changed to “Pulcino”, or a young chicken or chick. It could be attributed to either the small stature of the obelisk, which is the shortest in Rome, or a vague reference to one of the Dominican charity that helped young women who didn’t have a dowry.
If you keep on walking on Via di Torre Argentina a few blocks, you’ll end up in Largo di Torre Argentina where you can visit the ancient Roman temples, or catch the tram to Trastevere, or a bus to other areas in Rome since several buses stop there. We’ll cover that area in a future show, but it’s good to know that it’s so close to the Pantheon.
A little further down the street back towards Piazza della Rotonda, you can get a taste of ancient Roman and Etruscan artifacts at Archeo Roma. Another location is off of Piazza Navona. Here, they specialize in hand crafted reproductions of ancient pieces by artisans using natural coloring and materials, while implementing the same techniques used by their ancient Roman ancestors. Here you can find everyrhing from bronzes, vases, jewelry, statues, and just about everything you can imagine. You can check out their online catalogue on their website: www.ArcheoRoma.net
~ La Sagrestia
Excellent Pizza and Pasta, reasonably priced
Via del Seminario, 89, 00186 Rome
Cremeria Monteforte is currently one of my favorite gelaterias in Rome! It’s located to the side of the Pantheon (to the right if you are facing the Pantheon, right across the taxi ranks). The gleato is always fresh and delicate, prepared with natural ingredients and fruits that are in season. My favorite flavors: Mango, Rose and Figs (fig gelato is seasonal)
San Crispino is also located near the Trevi Fountain, but you can also find it in the square right across Santa Maria della Maddalena church
For excellent coffee and pastries, don’t miss these two excellent cafes!
~ Tazza D’Oro
Via degli Orfani, 84
Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, 82
If you dig a little deeper into the city of Rome, you will be richly rewarded. Like the Pantheon, churches in Italy are architectural works of art, mini-museums, historical monuments, and sacred places that welcome the weary of mind, body and spirit. Thank you for joining me in and around the Pantheon as we Roam through ROme. Until next time, Ciao for now!!
BONUS Feature on A Road Retraveled Travel App: The Pantheon may have been many things, but could it also be haunted?? Find out on the Bonus Feature segment on the official A Road Retraveled App.