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Italy Roundtable: My Favorite Work of Art in Italy

Asking an art expert to pick a favorite piece of art is probably a bit like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. They all have redeeming qualities, after all. But asking a sap like me – a complete non-expert – to choose a favorite piece of art in Italy is far less complicated. It’s all about tugging at heartstrings.
When the topic for this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable – favorite art in Italy – was chosen, I had only a few eliminations to make from my initial list. I could have easily chosen perhaps my favorite church anywhere, Venice’s stunning St. Mark’s Basilica, or the similarly glowing mosaics in Ravenna’s San Vitale. I could have picked the room full of enormous Botticelli masterpieces in Florence’s Uffizi, so big they take your breath away. In the end, however, I kept coming back to the building that remains my favorite in Rome, and always brings a lump to my throat, without fail, when I step inside.
The Pantheon.

photo by Jessica Spiegel & may not be used without permission
It’s the favorite building of many, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. That perfectly round dome is aesthetically pleasing to look at, even if the outside isn’t as pretty as the inside, and the gigantic stone columns at the entrance are grander in scale than you can imagine even when you’re standing next to them. For me, though, what makes the Pantheon my favorite building in all of Rome and one of my favorite on earth is the phrase that always runs through my head when I walk through the door:
People have walked on this very floor, on these very stones, for two thousand years.
It gives me chills.

photo by snickclunk
I have walked on the cobbled paths at the Roman Forum and Pompeii, and sat in the stands at the arena in Verona, both equally old and with the potential to give me equal chills. Yet it’s only the Pantheon that brings me to near tears, and it’s entirely due to a shortcoming on my part – I have a crappy sense of vision. When I wander through the Forum, I have to carry the “Rome: Past & Present” book with me to see what those ruins used to look like, and even then they still just look like piles of rocks to me. With the Pantheon, I don’t have to imagine a thing – the building remains more or less the way it’s looked since it was built.

photo by alex ranaldi
While countless so-called “pagan” churches of a similar era were torn down, the fact that the Pantheon was dedicated to all gods (the name Pantheon means “all gods”) meant that it outlived various religious rivalries long enough to become consecrated as a Christian church. The building has been in constant use since it was constructed, and although I seem to lack the necessary vision to mentally reconstruct Roman ruins my mind swarms with history when I think of the millions (billions?) of people who have walked across the Pantheon’s marble floor in the last two thousand years.
I had a similar feeling when I visited Herculaneum, since its buildings are better-preserved than the ones at nearby Pompeii and in one case I walked into a two-story house and could sort of picture people actually living there, but even there I still felt like I was in a museum. The Pantheon has every right to be roped off, but it’s not – in fact, the huge oculus in the ceiling ensures that the precious floor I so fawn over isn’t even protected from the elements.

photo by blucolt
Yet despite two thousand years’ worth of rain and footfall, the Pantheon stands as it always has – not pilfered for other construction, not demolished by a jealous ruler, not torn down to see what held it up. For this, I am extremely thankful, and more than a little emotional.
>> What’s your favorite work of art in Italy? Leave a comment below!

photo by Silver Bromide
Here’s a one-minute video of activity outside the Pantheon, and then a look inside:

One Minute 21 – Pantheon from Chris Pinnock on Vimeo.

Other Voices from the Italy Blogging Roundtable

Now that you’ve read about how emotional I get walking on a two thousand year old floor in Rome (seriously, if you see me in the Pantheon, bring me a tissue), it’s time to read about the Italian works of art that the rest of the Italy Blogging Roundtable calls their favorite.
Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic.

Italy Blogging Roundtable Archives: