Roma, 2 febbraio 2021
Under the portico I wind my way through the columns freely, weaving in and out tracing a figure eight with each step, my fingers caressing the Egyptian granite. That I can touch something so ancient, leave my mark, a finger print smeared on it’s porous surface, yet leaving not a trace, no evidence that I was here, silently slipping through the shadows cast, is strangely comforting. Nobody sees me, nobody cares, nobody is here. I am the ghost of the Roman she-wolf and Raffaello’s whisper floating through the atrium, here now, then no more. Still standing.
I am still in love with the Pantheon. I know it’s cliché but she truly takes my breath away. I know that is not the sort of thing one would want to experience in today’s Covid environment, but I actually do gasp each time I see her. It doesn’t matter which angle she appears from, whichever street I take, they all spill onto the Piazza della Rotonda, as soon as I’m in her shadow my gaze floats up, my heart flutters, and…love.
The pandemic has brought tourism to a halt and there is only a handful of people walking around. Sitting at the foot of the Macuteo obelisk and just staring at her for as long as I’d like is a privilege, a view unfettered by passers-by. The Pantheon opened to the public again, as part of the “zona gialla” contingencies, but even before then I didn’t need to go inside to feel her enormity, her sacred geometry: triangle, square, circle, sphere. I would just close my eyes and remember tracing a full circle inside her walls. Originally built in 27 BCE by Marcus Agrippa, and later rebuilt in 120 CE by Emperor Hadrian, the proportions of this radial temple, circular in shape, meant to honor all the ancient Roman gods, creates an invisible sphere, the upper half of which is defined by the dome. Converted into a church in 609 CE, the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs also holds the remains of two Kings of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as the Renaissance painter Raphael, among other illustrious Italians. Previously, when it was allowed, aspiring artists would leave letters and flowers on Raphael’s tomb. Last year I left him a white rose on my birthday. A few weeks later Italy shut down.
Outside, the old horse, blinders on, carriage attached, masked driver slumped in the seat, is waiting for zero tourists to pull around and see the sights. The driver might have better luck charging us a fee to feed his horse carrots and hay*. Diversify in this year of disruption, carrots not carriages. Just like the hawkers who normally peddle plastic trinkets, bottled water, and fans to tourists (or raingear depending on the weather) have pivoted to selling masks and hand sanitizer, so might the carriage driver switch it up. But the Pantheon isn’t bothered by disruption. She doesn’t even care. Invasions. Plague. 2020. Whatever. She’s been here for over 2,000 years. Still standing.
The Pantheon, true to it’s prefix, is the summation of Rome for me, all of her architecture and history, both ancient and contemporary, all at once, in one massive, enduring, all encompassing space. From ancient temple to modern day church, the oculus inside still tracks the passing of time.
Every single time I go visit her I leave reluctantly, longingly look back as I slowly walk away. I always return home feeling like I needed to have stayed longer, to bask in her energy, her shapes, her shadows. Just a little longer. Or maybe forever.
* Along with many animal rights activists I am against allowing horse-drawn carriages in Rome. Current Mayor Virginia Raggi ran on a promise to ban the practice but they are still out there.