Dome, There it Is

I have spent a lot of time studying buildings lately, and I have recently come to the conclusion that domes are legitimately my favorite thing. There is something about the vastness of domes and the complicated mathematics involved with building them that just makes my little, nerdy heart ablaze. I have picked out three of my favorite domes to share with all of you in honor of my new self-discovery. I hope you enjoy!

1.Alhambra, Spain

Opening the list is my all-time favourite dome: the Muqarnas Dome at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra is a palace fortress that was built during the Islamic rule of Spain (which for some reason seems to be rarely acknowledged even though Muslims left some pretty sick architecture behind). This particular dome is located in the Hall of Two Sisters and, per its name, was built using an Islamic architectural technique called “muqarnas.” The muqarnas technique is intended to make the ceiling appear almost as if it were dissolving. The architects of this building used faceted geometric forms made of stucco to create the visual effect. Gazing into the center of the dome invokes an intense feeling of being slowly sucked in.

2.Florence Cathedral, Italy

The next dome on my list was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi for the Florence Cathedral. There is actually a fairly interesting story behind the construction of this dome. There was a competition between artists in the city to see who could come up with the best way to build a dome without the use of expensive wooden scaffolding. He beat out his old rival Lorenzo Ghiberti (who had previously defeated him in a competition to design the baptistery doors) by designing an egg-shaped dual-dome using the same “pointed fifth” method as that of gothic arches, pushing the weight of the structure down instead of out. He then created the “Herrington brickwork” method, which consists of laying brick in a spiral pattern and did not require scaffolding to complete. He also invented a two-way pulley system—with inspiration from da Vinci—with allowed materials to be lifted more easily. Brunelleschi’s dome is, without a doubt, an engineering marvel.

3.Pantheon, Italy

This last dome sits atop one of the most iconic buildings in the world: the Pantheon in Rome. The building has lasted so long because it was turned into a Christian church, but originally it would have been a temple to the twelve major Olympian gods before the “fall” of the Roman Empire. The dome itself would have originally been painted a rich blue with golden stars in each of its square niches to imitate the heavens. One of the most fascinating things about the dome (other than the fact that it still hasn’t fallen and crushed someone despite standing for over a thousand years) is the oculus at the top-center. Literally meaning “eyeball,” the oculus served many functions for the ancient Romans. Practically, the oculus accounted for the expansion and contraction of the concrete used to build the dome. However, the oculus also had the more abstract function of representing the sun in the dome’s “canopy of heaven” design. During the summer solstice, light from the sun illuminates the doorway, allowing visitors to walk into the divinity of the gods. Different statues of the gods would have been alight during varying times of the day as well, perhaps in relation to their domain of power.  (As a side note, crowds of people rush to see the snow drift down onto the Pantheon’s floor on the rare occasions that it snows in Rome.) The dome at the Pantheon is one of the few lasting marvels of the ancient world. (Thank goodness for the Romans, who have also given us concrete and Raoul Bova.)


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