Rome was, well, amazing! Especially for me. To see so much of the art and architecture I had previously only studied in school or seen in books was truly a great privilege. But one work of architecture stood out to me more than all the others: the Pantheon.
We visited the Pantheon for the first time in the mid-afternoon of our first day in Rome, when the sun was still high in the sky. After dropping off our luggage at our hotel near the Vatican, we took the subway downtown and wove our way from the station through the centro storico's narrow and picturesque streets slowly toward the Pantheon, casually taking in some churches and piazzas along the way.
Nothing can really prepare you for the experience of entering the Pantheon for the first time. The volume of space sheltered by its famous coffered dome is immense, and the interior seems much bigger than you might imagine upon seeing the building from the outside. And in a surreal and painterly way, the sunlight really does stream down from the oculus in a singular, powerful beam, cutting through an atmosphere thick with history to illuminate pristine architectural details almost 2000 years old.
It is almost unimaginable that a building of the Pantheon's age can be in such excellent condition. Seeing the Pantheon was the first time in my life that I was able to relate to ancient Roman architecture as something real and tangible, not just an outdated concept to be studied in books.
We sat for quite a while in the Pantheon that first day while I tried to meagerly capture the majesty of the space with my little digital point-and-shoot. It can't be done.
I enjoyed my time in Rome, and I'm glad I saw the the Forum, the Coliseum, the Vatican, and many beautiful churches. But, truthfully, I would have traded them all for a few days in the Pantheon, watching the sun rise and set through the oculus.
Rome would have been worth it if only for the Pantheon.
Well, that and the gelato...