Eh, not going in there today.
The image above is not one of mine, the day I went to the Pantheon we had blazing early morning sun that washed out the view from this angle. Tip of the hat and photo credit to a fellow named Jean-Pol Grandmont off of Wikimedia commons.
No, today we are going to visit North, South, East and West of the Pantheon, checking out some bits of history that are seldom considered.
From the photo above, I suggest we first turn around and look to the North.
The Piazza della Rotonda gets its name from the dome of the Pantheon. A rotunda (from the Latin rotundus) is a building with a circular plan. The Piazza is a fun, busy place with lots of pedestrians enjoying themselves. It used to be a little less savory, the inscription shown is on the north edge of the square and translates to:
IN THE TWENTY-THIRD YEAR OF HIS OFFICE PIUS THE SEVENTH
SUPREME PONTIFF, IN AN EMINENTLY WISE ACT OF DEMOLITION
FREED FROM ITS HATEFUL DISFIGUREMENT
THE SQUARE BEFORE MARCUS AGRIPPA'S PANTHEON
WHICH WAS ENCUMBERED BY TAWDRY SHOPS,
AND BADE IT TO COMMAND A CLEAR VIEW.
Sounds OK, although I personally enjoy the occasional visit to an "Ignobilibus Taberna". But the inscription is a bunch of nonsense. Pope Pius VII was notorious for claiming credit for the work of others. This 1822/23 inscription actually refers to demolition work done during the French occupation of 1809-14. And what Napoleon had in mind was not eminently wise, he had issued decrees for wholesale demolition to create a big traffic circle. Events elsewhere in Europe ended French rule of Italy before he could commit this horrid deed.
Now we look on the east side of the Pantheon. You can see its wall on the left of the photo:
That is the original ground level down there. The walls you see are part of something interesting.
The Septae Julia was a large open courtyard space designed, logically enough, by Julius Caesar. Completed after his death by his friend Agrippa, it was initially where Roman citizens would gather to vote. Sometimes they had gladiatorial combat there. Later it became a mixed use space with the temple of Minerva in the middle and with market spaces along the sides. These spaces were called porticoes and in a preserved letter of Cicero it is said that they totaled a mile in length. The side adjacent to the Pantheon was The Portico of the Argonauts after artwork located there that depicted the famous mariners. A nice reconstruction of the neighborhood can be seen HERE.
During the Roman Imperial period the Portico of the Argonauts was the place to go if you wanted to purchase art and antiquities. Imagine the sculptures - Greek original and Roman copies - that were bought and sold in what is now a neglected little trench.
Now lets walk around to the south side of the Pantheon:
Again we have the original ground level and a set of surviving columns from the Basilica of Neptune. Rome being basically a land power whose relationship with oceans was a bit uneasy, it is interesting to see two nautically themed sites adjacent to each other. The explanation is that the entire area, Pantheon, Porticus of the Argonauts, Basilica of Neptune were all the work of one man, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. As the man mostly responsible for the naval victories that put Augustus in firm command of the Empire, the nautical theme makes sense. Some of this project was Agrippa giving thanks for his success, other aspects of it were public praise for it.
Sometimes I like to focus my attention and camera on a tiny detail that has no relevance. The wide cement ledge that separates the modern street from the archaeological remains is of course new. But I liked the silly little metal bobs on it. What purpose could they ever have served?
And speaking not of purposes but of porpoises, here are a few details that survive of the Basilica of Neptune:
It has the look of something that was found down below in a bunch of pieces and was stuck back on the wall in what they hoped was the right spot. The Basilica of Neptune is one of those ancient structures that it is very difficult to visualize. It has for one thing been sliced in half by a modern street, and certainly there was some more recent building that made it contiguous with the Pantheon.
To complete our circumnavigation of the Pantheon you could look to the West. But here you will not see any ancient remains. This was the site of the Stagnum Agrippae, a large pool of standing water associated with the Baths of Agrippa. Stagnum means "standing" and gives us our modern word "stagnant" in English. The etymology of this complex of words is way beyond my pay grade, similar sounding spin offs appear to include "status, stasis and stare" in English. And in Italian when you ask somebody "Come sta?" you are literally asking "How are you standing?".
Archaeology of Rome and of the English language......
Regards the Pantheon I will take you at least up to the front door some day soon.