After a dreary morning, the sun came out as we reached the Basilica San Clemente. No photos were allowed within the Basilica, which encouraged me to sketch and remain more absorbed in my surroundings. The inside of the main level of the church was characterized by symmetry and soaring ceilings clad in gold and blue extravagant designs. No square inch of the main level could be considered plain: there were enormous murals on display directly below the ceiling framed with ornate sculptures and the curved wall behind the altar proudly displayed swirling gold designs with detailed images and scenes intertwined. As I descended the stairs to the lower levels that had been excavated, I was transported to a different world.
It smelled and felt damp and aged. The maze of walkways below was dimly lit with muffled noise, except the constant sound of flowing water. Being claustrophobic, I was not excited about the idea of delving deep into these ancient underground passages. However, I found it easy to be lost in thought wondering at how and why the underground structures were created. I noticed many different building materials used in these underground walls. There were brick arches wedged into only half of the brick columns situated adjacent to the stone walls and a column like the ones used in the main floor of the church. Emerging from the dark underground excavations, we crossed the uneven floor in the church to an open courtyard. The openness of the area and the calming trickle of a fountain were refreshing and peaceful.
We revisited the Pantheon today and joined the large crowds craning their necks to wonder at the weighty concrete dome sitting extraordinarily above our heads. There was a young choir with heavenly voices singing and adding an even more reverent atmosphere to the Pantheon. I took a seat amidst chattering visitors while my mom admired the interior perimeter. The enormity of the Pantheon raised endless questions all centered on this gigantic unreinforced concrete dome: were there settlement problems (the floor was noticeably sloped)? What type of soil rested beneath the Pantheon? What is the foundation like? How was the dome actually built? Are there large cracks that we can’t see from the ground? What was the construction process? And how were they daring enough to build such an aggressively impressive structure? Moreover, how did they successfully achieve such a risky feat?