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Chianti & Temples

October 18, 2000

 

So you may have detected my love for architecture, antiquity in particular. Why ancient things, foreign places? It's not the surprise of the unknown which elicits awe; it's the discovery of a jewel just as it was left: ancient, perfect, immesurably perfect.

 

In the darkness split with laughter we stumble, holding hands, down narrow passages and unexpectedly spill into an open piazza. Dizzy, drunk on excellent chianti, struggling to comprehend the ancient structure hulking above floodlights I hear only: there it is, that's the Pantheon.

 

Less of its outer detail remains than I expected, its bricks' texture worn down, showing obvious spots of occasional restoration since its first century a.d. birth. I run blindly to the left, to see the shape unfolding -- yes, a simple drum, just as I had known it to be, but here standing in solid drumness... real.

 

From below, its giant dome, the largest of its day, is oddly dwarfed by the perspective; its tall, many-columned porch seemed far more striking, a forest of verticality. Dark, dirty, musty coffers indent the ceiling of the porch, a hundred feet high, in my memory. I stare until I need more detail. I grab Ash and we run up the steps, past small groups of Italian teenagers chatting and smoking around mopeds.

 

The doors, massive gates of bronze, monstrous, sit in tracks which will glide them open for tourists in the morning. But here in the darkness they're quiet and secretive, holding their glory in. They know: I've come to see the hole.

This giant dome, in all its weight and structure, has a 20-foot circle of sky at its zenith, letting in sun and rain and air and cold and everything all year for 2000 years so far. That's the thing I came to see, over marble floors as old as Christianity. But between me and the hole stand these impenetrable carved metal walls of black, and all we can do is press our faces to the crack between them, hopelessly.

 

But, hello... as I stare into the slit I can see a little light. The moon is out, and straight over us. Of course, the inner chamber is being lit from outside; I'm seeing light bouncing around the interior, off shining cream and honey and peach squares of marble, off every surface. After a moment I can see, shadowy, a statue... yes, in the niche across from the entrance! And, more, all around the perimeter walls inside the drum of the Pantheon - which once held statues of all the Roman gods in these niches for all of Rome to visit, worship, give offerings to in this place. Here were those very niches, now ironically stuffed with Christian dieties who were never meant to *be* idolized. But I haven't yet looked UP. So I do, following the walls; again the walls turn into curved, coffered darkness, the coffers describing poetically and mathematically the shape and depth of the light within the dome.

 

 And the hole is there, gently lit by a wisp of silver cloud curled ribbon-like around a bright, nearly-whole moon.

This is complete. I'm outside, peeking through an impossible crack, into the past, the history of Rome and Western civilization; only to see right out the top, to the moon right over my own head; the moon: the future, the present. Me and the moon, sandwiching the ancient Pantheon between us.

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