Bernini’s VERY Bad Idea

Now you see them, and now you don’t! What change was made to the Pantheon in the past 150 years or so?

PantheonTourists invariably assume that the appearance of one of Rome’s most iconic ancient structures has always remained the same. They couldn’t be more wrong–because for over two centuries, Romans were fuming about “improvements” to the Pantheon made by none other than the great Gianlorenzo Bernini.

Back in the 1600’s, Bernini played a tremendously important role in several Popes’ building projects throughout the city of Rome. One of those projects involved making some trendy updates to the Pantheon. In the view of those who saw the Eternal City through baroque eyes, it was desperately in need of a facelift–since it had been built in the early 100’s A.D., well before the Renaissance!

Bernini had the brilliant idea to add a pair of bell towers to the top of the building. IMG_5931The Pope agreed that it was a smart move, and approved of the plan. Ordinary Romans, however, had a different opinion, and didn’t hesitate to share it: the baroque updates were promptly labelled “Bernini’s ass’s ears.”

Here’s a very rare and very old photo of how the Pantheon still looked in 1860, nearly 200 years after Bernini’s death. The incongruous “ears” were still there, to the dismay of Roman purists. They were finally removed a couple of decades later, when there had arisen quite a different trend: ancient Roman monuments were being stripped of their medieval and Renaissance accretions, in order to return them as closely as possible to their original state.

Rome’s archives are actually filled with fascinating old photos like this one, and they frequently show the city in a radically different light.  Just a couple of generations ago, Rome looked quite different from the Rome of today.

What do you think? Do you like the old bell towers? Or do you agree with the blunt, inelegant Roman peasants, who thought that Bernini’s supposedly great artistic idea was a huge mistake?