Eye in the Sky…

I think the Pantheon in Rome might be the most beautiful building in the world.  Built sometime around the first century AD, its dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.  Think about that for a moment.  In two thousand years no one has been able to equal or exceed the engineering and architectural prowess of a bunch of guys wearing bedsheets and doing the math in their heads.  Concrete is made with aggregate (little stones), and the Romans apparently used lighter volcanic stones as they went higher to maintain the strength while reducing the weight.  Technical notions aside, it also possesses for me unequaled simplicity and beauty of lines.  The list of buildings modelled on the Pantheon would run to pages, and includes Jefferson’s Monticello as well as the Wyatt center on the campus of Vanderbilt University in my hometown.  By the way, the “eye in the sky” refers to the oculus in the center of the dome which lets hot air out and daylight in.  Go see it some time.  (18 September, 2006  Rome, Italy)

Angel flying too close to the ground…

The Ponte Sant’Angelo, also called the Angel Bridge, spans the Tiber River in Rome.  It was originally constructed by the Emperor Hadrian in 134 AD to connect the city center with his new and enormous tomb on the far bank.  Recycling being a time-honored Roman tradition, a succession of popes converted Hadrian’s resting place into a castle.  And as we learned from Dan Brown the forward-thinking Pope Nicholas III built a covered passage linking St. Peter’s to Hadrian’s tomb, for those times when a pope might need to beat a hasty retreat.  It was Bernini’s vision (though not all statues are by his hand) that five angels holding symbols of The Passion would flank each side of the bridge leading from secular Rome to sacred Vatican ground.  The threatening clouds and calm reflections on the water this day called for a classic black & white treatment.  (18 September, 2006  Tiber River, Rome, Italy)