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Rome’s Pantheon, the only great structure of antiquity to survive intact, also is the Basilica of St. Maria ad Martires, in whose walls are interred the Savoy unifier of Italy Victorio Emanuele II and his son Umberto I. It is noon on Sunday, and perhaps a thousand tourists are gathered at the entrance to the great building, whose dome remained the largest freestanding structure of its kind until Brunelleschi completed the Cathedral of Florence in 1463. Mass is being said inside and barriers keep the tourists out. A few minutes before noon worshippers begin to trickle out of the building; there might be three dozen, mostly elderly. The mob of curiosity-seekers parts to let them pass and prepares for the surge as the barriers are lifted. Precisely at noon the sacristans with their red-crucifix armbands remove the aluminum barriers, and the empty church in moments becomes a packed-to-capacity tourist attraction.

Spengler’s Universal Law of History states: Stick around long enough and you will turn into a theme park. In the case of the Pantheon this happened twice, the last time with the burial of the tombs of the Savoy kings who were supposed to refresh the spirit of Imperial Rome in modern Italy. This time, instead of barbarians, the Pantheon is overrun by tourists.



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