I stood under the oculus and felt the light shining down on me. Like a crew member on the Starship Enterprise I felt I could be beamed up at any moment and transported to another time and place.

My first experience standing in the Pantheon, Rome’s ” temple of the gods” looking up at the vault of a “perfect heaven” was one of the most awe-inspiring moments I’ve had traveling in Italy. The oculus or Great Eye in the ceiling concentrated the light of the sun through the giant hole in the center like a “shield of gold where rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below and prayers would rise like smoke toward that void where we place the gods.” (Emperor Hadrian).

Every year, on June 21st, the rays of the sun at the summer equinox shine from the oculus through the front door. No CGI program or computer generated graphics could duplicate the itensity and brillance of light against the stark concerte dome. Of all the great buildings constructed during the peak of the Roman Empire, only this one still stands.  Hadrian’s giant sun-dial, a monument from classical antiquity, a tomb (the painter Raphael, the first two kings and first queen of Italy are buried here), a church dedicated to the Christian martyrs -the Pantheon is all of these. One of the most recognizable works of architecture on the planet, a statement that Rome remains eternal and a model for moumental construction projects from Michelangelo to Thomas Jefferson and an inspiration to strive towards the Light.

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