Eagle-eyed visitors to the Pantheon may spot a bee on the capital of the column at the eastern corner of the portico. The Pantheon's bee is one of the many secrets of Rome that are known only to the few, but why is it there?
In 1625 Pope Urban VIII (r. 1623-44) ordered the removal of the ancient bronze trusses from the roof of the portico, as he wanted the metal to cast new cannons for the Castel Sant' Angelo. The Romans were outraged by this act of official vandalism and one wag penned the famous pasquinade: 'Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini' ('What the barbarians didn't do, the Barberini did').
In apparent compensation for his pillaging of the Pantheon, Urban VIII made some reparations to its fabric, which included the replacement of a broken granite column with one salvaged from the nearby Baths of Nero. The pope was a member of the Barberini family, whose coat of arms is made up three bees. He duly had a bee carved on its capital for all to see. Almost 400 years later, there it remains.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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