Roman Pantheon may be a colossal sundial

February 2nd, 2009 - 2:13 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Feb 2 (ANI): An expert in ancient timekeeping has suggested that the grand Roman Pantheon, an imposing temple in Rome, may play the role of a colossal sundial.

This temple in Rome, completed in 128 AD, is one of the most impressive buildings that survives from antiquity.

It consists of a cylindrical chamber topped by a domed roof with an oculus in the top which lets through a dramatic shaft of sunlight. It boasts a colonnaded courtyard at the front.

According to a report in New Scientist, when Robert Hannah of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, visited the Pantheon in 2005, researching for a book, he realized that the Pantheon might have been more than just a temple.

During the six months of winter, the light of the noon sun traces a path across the inside of the domed roof. During summer, with the sun higher in the sky, the shaft shines onto the lower walls and floor.

At the two equinoxes, in March and September, the sunlight coming in through the hole strikes the junction between the roof and wall, above the Pantheon’’s grand northern doorway.

A grille above the door allows a sliver of light through to the front courtyard - the only moment in the year that it sees sunlight if its main doors are closed.

Now, according to Hannah, this is no coincidence.

A hollowed-out hemisphere with a hole in the top was a type of sundial used in Roman times, albeit on a much smaller scale, to show the time of year.

While the Pantheons dome is quite flat on the outside, it forms a perfect hemisphere inside.

This is quite a deliberate design feature, said Hannah.

Pantheon means all of the gods and the buildings roof represented the dome of the sky, where Romans believed the gods resided.

At equinox, the sun is on the celestial equator, where Earths equator would lie if projected into space, which was seen as the most stable part of the sky, a perfect eternal home for the gods.

Hannah said that by marking the equinoxes, the Pantheon was intended to elevate emperors who worshipped there into the realm of the gods.

According to James Evans, a historian of astronomy at the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, The architect of the Pantheon would certainly have been aware of the symbolic connections between the cosmos and the empire, and between the sun and the emperor. (ANI)

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