Jefferson modeled the Rotunda after the Pantheon, a second-century temple in Rome. Construction began in 1822 andwas completed in 1826 shortly after Jefferson's death on July 4 of that year.

Built at a cost of almost $60,000, it was the last structure to be finished on the Lawn. Shortly after the Rotunda's completion, many classes were moved from the first floors of the Pavilions into the Rotunda's oval rooms.