Rome is my favorite city in the world, so I knew a lot of my novel Pantheon would take place there. Here is a short guide to the locations used and how to locate them if you find yourself in that fantastic city.
The Pantheon (Piazza della Rotonda). This amazing temple was built by the emperor Hadrian in the second century, replacing an earlier, more traditional temple on the site. It was dedicated to all the Roman gods, and Hadrian used concrete and geometry to create a wholly unique space in Rome. A complete symmetrical sphere could be suspended under the dome inside the building. Visitors passed from the exterior (which looked like a regular rectangle and frontally-aligned temple) into a wholly circular space. It would have been mesmerizing.
At the beginning of Pantheon, the section set in 147 CE shows the temple in its heyday. It, like so many other treasures of pre-Christian Rome, was looted during the sack of 410. Originally the temple sat on a podium and steps flowed down from the porch to a large colonnaded forecourt that was typical of such architecture. This was where Claudia watched the barbarians. As the Pius section illustrated, it was eventually turned into a church dedicated to Mary and the martyrs in the early 7th century that preserved at least the superstructure of the building.
When you visit this building today, you will probably still see the souvenir stand on the porch that Zeus knocked down when he fled.
The Temple of Matidia (Vicolo della Spada di Orlando). The only remains of this large temple dedicated to Hadrian’s mother-in-law are a few stones in the little alley between the Piazza Capranica and the Via dei Pastini. It once stood behind the colonnade of the Pantheon to the northeast. By the second century, it was common for important family members of emperors to be deified after their death. Matidia had helped Hadrian secure the throne, so this was payback. In Pantheon, this temple is the one that catches fire during the sack of 410 and collapses, crushing Claudia and the monk. The modern name of the alley comes from a medieval legend that claimed the Frankish hero Roland made the mark in the stone with his magic sword.
The Manfredi Lighthouse and the Janiculum Hill. (the Passeggiata del Gianicolo). This hill has fantastic panoramic views over Rome. The ancient Romans placed a watchtower here to keep an eye out for enemy attacks. Today it is a pleasant park. Along the ridge of the hill is the Manfredi Lighthouse, which was given to the city in 1911 by expatriate Italians living in Argentina. This is where Zeus, Athena, and Aphrodite are when Zeus is struck by lightning in Pantheon.
St Peter’s Square and Basilica. (Piazza San Pietro) This is the heart of the Vatican City. Designed by Bernina, be sure to find the marked spots on the pavement near the fountains where the columns of the colonnade line up in a neat optical illusion.
Here are a few places mentioned in the text:
The square is where Artemis meets the Catholic mourners. She sits atop the obelisk (which originally stood in a hippodrome on this hill before the basilica was built) and the statue of Constantine in the porch of St Peters. Inside the church you can see the Pietà statue (which Zeus refused to destroy) and the Doctors of the Church statues around the so-called Throne of St Peters (which he damaged). The large canopy with the twisty columns was made of bronze melted down from the bronze roof-beams of the Pantheon. The pope sat near here during mass when Zeus and Artemis revealed themselves. The pope’s gardens behind the basilica, where Artemis fetched many flowers, is unfortunately off limits to visitors.
Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. (Via del Tempio di Giove) In the Demeter chapter, that goddess met Zeus on the site of his main temple in Rome atop the Capitoline Hill in the dark ages. He forbade her from reclaiming her worship, and she pushed him down in anger. The temple itself was a very ancient one, probably dating to the seventh century BCE.
Aphrodite’s Apartment. (Via del Colosseo and the Largo Gaetana Agnesi) I wanted guests to be able to see the Roman Forum from Aphrodite’s apartment. It made sense she would have one of the most desirable addresses in the city. The large orange and tan building above the Colosseo Metro station seemed to serve such a purpose. I took some liberties about this building being able to accommodate a secluded garden inside, but it is not impossible. There is an intriguing garden with very tall trees behind a high wall just behind the building bordering the Largo Gaetana Agnesi. In my imagination, this is Aphrodite’s.
The temple that Anne notices from Aphrodite’s apartment is the Temple of Venus and Roma, also built by Hadrian in the second century. It was two temples placed back to back. One was dedicated to the goddess of love, and the other to a personification of the city of Rome. This was also an amusing architectural palindrome. ROMA backwards is AMOR, which means love in Latin.
The Quirinal Hill. (Piazza del Quirinale) When Zeus first arrives in Rome after being contacted by Yahweh, he stays in a hotel near the Quirinal Hill. I did not have a specific one in mind, but there are several in this neighborhood. The statues in this piazza of Castor and Pollux once stood in the nearby Baths of Constantine. They were moved here, along with the obelisk, in the 18th century. The Italian President lives in the majestic building bordering the piazza.
The Piazza Navona. The shape of this piazza comes from the fact that it was constructed over the remains of a chariot stadium built in the first century by the emperor Domitian. In Pantheon, Zeus sits here in one of the cafés and agrees to begin training in “the power”.