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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome crowned by a cupola. Designed primarily by Michelangelo, the dome was not completed until 1590

A dome is a structural element of architecture that resembles the hollow upper half of a sphere. Dome structures made of various materials have a long architectural lineage extending into prehistory.

Corbel domes have been found in the ancient Middle East in modest buildings and tombs. The construction of technically advanced large-scale true domes began in the Roman Architectural Revolution,[1] when they were frequently used by the Romans to shape large interior spaces of temples and public buildings, such as the Pantheon. This tradition continued unabated after the adoption of Christianity in the Byzantine (East Roman) religious and secular architecture, culminating in the revolutionary pendentive dome of the 6th century church Hagia Sophia. With the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid Empire and the Byzantine Near East, the dome also became a feature of Muslim architecture (see gonbad, gongbei).

Domes in Western Europe became popular again during the Renaissance period, reaching a zenith in popularity during the early 18th century Baroque period. Reminiscent of the Roman senate, during the 19th century they became a feature of grand civic architecture. As a domestic feature the dome is less common, tending only to be a feature of the grandest houses and palaces during the Baroque period.

Many domes, particularly those from the Renaissance and Baroque periods of architecture, are crowned by a lantern or cupola, a Medieval innovation which not only serves to admit light and vent air, but gives an extra dimension to the decorated interior of the dome.



Comparison of a generic "true" stone arch (left) and a corbel arch (right).

A dome can be thought of as an arch which has been rotated around its central vertical axis. Thus domes, like arches, have a great deal of structural strength when properly built and can span large open spaces without interior supports. Corbel domes achieve their shape by extending each circular layer of stones inward slightly farther than the previous, lower, one until they meet at the top. These are sometimes called 'false' domes. 'True', or 'real' domes are formed with increasingly inward-angled layers which have ultimately turned 90 degrees from the base of the dome to the top. Domes have been constructed from a variety of building materials over the centuries: from mud to stone, wood, brick, concrete, metal, glass and plastic.



Early history and primitive domes

Assyrian bas-relief from Nimrud showing domed structures in the background

There are numerous sporadic examples of cultures from pre-history to modern times constructing domed dwellings using local materials. Although it is not known when the first dome was created, the earliest known domed structures may be small dwellings made of Mammoth tusks and bones, dated from 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. Four of these were found by a farmer in Mezhirich, Ukraine in 1965 while he was digging in his cellar.[2]

An Assyrian bas-relief from Nimrud depicts domed buildings, although remains of such a structure in that ancient city have yet to be identified due to the impermanent nature of sun-dried mudbrick construction.[3]

Apache wigwam, by Edward S. Curtis, 1903

Examples of mud-brick buildings which seemed to employ the "true" dome technique have been excavated at Tell Arpachiyah, a Mesopotamian site of the Halaf (ca. 6100 to 5400 BCE) and Ubaid (ca. 5300 to 4000 BCE) cultures.[4] However, small corbel domes functioning as dwellings for poorer people appear to have remained the norm throughout the ancient Near East until the introduction of the monumental dome in the Roman period.[5]

Buildings and tombs have been found from Oman to Portugal with a type of dome using the corbel technique. The similarities between the structures in Oman and those in Europe may be coincidental, however. The Oman structures, built above ground, date to around 3,000 BCE.[6] The larger Treasury of Atreus, a Mycenaean tomb covered with a mound of earth, dates to around 1250 BCE.

The Wigwam was made by Native Americans using arched branches or poles covered with grass or hides. The Efe Pygmies of central Africa construct similar structures, using mango leaves as shingles.[7] Another example is the Igloo, a shelter built from blocks of compact snow and used by the Inuit people, among others. The Himba people of Namibia construct "desert igloos" of wattle and daub for use as temporary shelters at seasonal cattle camps, and as permanent homes by the poor.[8]

Roman and Byzantine domes

Painting by Giovanni Paolo Pannini of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy, after its conversion to a church.

The Romans created domes of wood, stone, brick, ceramic, and concrete. The most famous Roman dome, and the largest, is in the Pantheon, a building in Rome originally built as a temple. Dating from the 2nd century, it is an unreinforced concrete dome resting on a thick circular wall, or rotunda. The circular opening at the top of the dome is called the Oculus, and it provides light and ventilation for the interior. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior walls are the same, 43.3 meters (142 ft). It remained the largest dome in the world for more than a millennium and is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.[9]

The Romans also used semi-domes, half a dome "cut" vertically, in niches and the exedras of basilicas. By Late Antiquity, the exedra developed into the apse, with separate developments in Romanesque and Byzantine practice.

The first Roman dome in domestic architecture may have been in the palatial and opulent Domus Aurea, or "Golden House", of Nero (54-68 AD). A wooden dome is reported in contemporary sources to have covered the dining hall in the palace, and been fitted such that perfume might spray from the ceiling.[10] The expensive and lavish decoration of the palace caused such scandal that it was demolished soon after Nero's death to make way for public buildings such as the Baths of Titus and the Colosseum.

"Within the [pagan] Roman world, domed constructions are limited almost without exception to the three environments of thermae, villas and palaces, and tombs. The Pantheon, as part of the Thermae of Agrippa, was no exception, whatever its religious character may have been."[11] With the rise of Christianity and the end of the Western Roman Empire, domes became a signature feature of the religious and secular architecture of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, often being built at the square intersections of perpendicular aisles.

The Hagia Sophia, or Church of the Holy Wisdom, undergoing restoration in Istanbul, Turkey

To support those portions of a dome which would not rest directly on a square base, techniques were employed in the corners. Initially, corbelling in the corners or the use of arches called squinchs was used. The invention of pendentives, triangular segments of an even larger dome filling the spaces between the circular bottom of the dome and each of the four corners of the square base, superseded the squinch technique. The most famous Byzantine landmark, the church of Hagia Sophia, was their debut. Pendentives would become commonly used in Byzantine, Renaissance and baroque churches.

In the simple dome the pendentives are part of the same sphere as the dome itself, however such domes are rare.[12] In the more common compound dome, such as the Hagia Sophia, the pendentives are part of the surface of a larger sphere than the dome itself but whose center is at a point lower than that of the dome.

When the Hagia Sophia was completed in 537, it was the largest church in the world, and remained so for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1520. Its large central dome was 31.24 meters (102 ft 6 in) wide and 55.6 meters (182 ft 5 in) above the floor, about one fourth smaller and greater, respectively, than the dome of the Pantheon. Unlike the Pantheon, the peak of the dome was solid, and the base was pierced with a ring of windows. Additionally, two huge half-domes of similar proportion were placed on opposite sides of the central dome.

With the decline in the empire's resources following crisis and territorial losses, domes in Byzantine architecture were used as part of more modest buildings. The Cross-in-square plan, with a dome at the crossing, became most popular in the middle and late Byzantine periods. Resting the dome on a circular wall pierced with windows called a drum, or tholobate, eventually became the standard style. The combination of pendentive, drum, and dome was continued in the buildings of the Italian Renaissance.

Persian, Arabic and Western-European domes

Ruins of the Palace of Ardashir, dating from 224, demonstrate the use of the dome in the Sassanid Empire in what is today Iran. Sassanid architecture likely inherited an architectural tradition of dome-building dating back to the earliest Mesopotamian domes.[13]

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

The Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great built the Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna, Italy, in 520, 44 years after the end of the Western Roman Empire. The 10 meter wide dome over the mausoleum was carved out of a single 300 ton slab of stone, very unusual at a time when most domes were made with bricks.

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the earliest existing Islamic building, dates to between 685 and 691. It was reportedly inspired by the domes of nearby Byzantine churches, such as the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and resembles the design of a Byzantine martyrium. The dome, made of wood, is approximately 20 meters in diameter and covered with gold.

Interior of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy.

Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor, built the Palatine Chapel in his palace at Aachen in the 790s. The chapel's construction was heavily influenced by the Byzantine Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. The octagonal dome was the largest dome north of the Alps at that time.

St Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy, has changed and developed over hundreds of years. The current church was built by 1063, replicating the earlier Greek cross plan with five domes (one each over the four arms of the cross and one in the center). These domes were built in the Byzantine style, perhaps in imitation of the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. Mounted over pendentives, each dome has a ring of windows at its base. So impressive were the gilded mosaics covering the interior that from the 11th century on the building was known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold). Much higher wooden, lead-covered, outer domes with cupolas were added sometime during the first half of the 13th century.

Italian Renaissance and Ottoman domes

The Cathedral of Florence, Italy

Brunelleschi's octagonal brick dome for the Florence Cathedral was built between 1420 and 1436. Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the duomo of Florence,[14] measures 42 to 45 meters in diameter, depending on whether the base of the dome is measured from face to face, or angle to angle. Eight white stone external ribs mark the edges of the eight sides, next to the red tile roofing, and extend from the base of the dome to the base of the cupola. It was the largest dome built in Western Europe since the Pantheon, and remains the largest masonry dome ever built. Notably, it was built as a double dome, with inner and outer shells, a technique that would become more and more common.

Selimiye Mosque dome in Edirne, Turkey

Süleymaniye Mosque, built in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) from 1550 to 1557, has a main dome 53 meters high with a diameter of 26.5 meters. At the time it was built, the dome was the highest in the Ottoman Empire when measured from sea level, but lower from the floor of the building and smaller in diameter than that of the nearby Hagia Sophia.

The Selimiye Mosque in the city of Edirne, Turkey, was the first structure built by the Ottomans which had a larger dome than that of the Hagia Sophia. The dome sits on an octagonal base and has an internal diameter of 31.25 meters. Designed and built by architect Mimar Sinan between 1568 and 1574, when he finished it he was 86 years old, and he considered the mosque to be his masterpiece.

The double walled dome of St. Peter's Basilica was completed in 1590. Slightly smaller in diameter than those of the Pantheon and Florence Cathedral, the inner dome is hemispherical, while the outer ribbed dome is vertically oval. The outside of the drum is decorated with pairs of columns between the large windows. Its internal diameter is 41.47 meters (136.1 ft) and its external height from the ground to the top of the cross is 136.57 meters (448.1 ft). The dome remains the tallest in the world. The style of the church ushered in what would become known as Baroque architecture, and the dome in particular would have great influence on subsequent designs.

Early modern period domes

The famous Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, was built from 1555 to 1561. It's distinctive onion domes, created later in 1680s, are outstanding examples in Russian architecture.

The Taj Mahal mausoleum in Agra, India.

Considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum which combines elements of Persian, Indian, and Islamic architecture. It was built between 1632 and 1653. Its large marble dome, often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome), is about 35 meters high and sits on a cylindrical drum about 7 meters high.

The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England.

St. Paul's Cathedral in London was rebuilt from 1677 to 1708. The crossing dome, designed in several stages by Sir Christopher Wren, had its initiation with the first plans for modifying Old St. Paul's, even before the fire of 1666. It was the first dome ever raised in England: "a form of church building," John Evelyn recorded in his diary,[15] "not as yet known in England, but of wonderful grace."When finished, the dome was three layers: an inner dome with an oculus, a decorative outer wood dome covered in lead roofing, and a structural brick cone in between. The brick cone ends in a small dome, which supports the cupola and outer roof and the decorated underside of which can be seen through the inner dome's oculus. It rises 365 feet (108 m) to the cross at its summit. Evocative of the much smaller Tempietto by Bramante[16], it in turn inspired many of its own imitators, most famously the second US Capitol dome in Washington, DC.

Adjacent to a hospital and retirement home for injured war veterans, the royal chapel of Les Invalides in Paris, France, was begun in 1679 and completed in 1708. The dome was one of many inspired by that of St. Peter's Basilica and it is an outstanding example of French Baroque architecture. In 1861 the body of Napoleon Bonaparte was moved from St. Helena to the most prominent location under the dome.

Modern period domes

Geodesic domes of the Eden Project in United Kingdom

The dome over the United States Capitol building was built from 1855 to 1866. Although painted white and crowning a masonry building, the dome is actually cast iron, as are the internal support framework and stairs. The design was heavily influenced by the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, among others.

In the 20th century, thin "eggshell" domes of pre-stressed concrete by architect-engineers such as Nervi opened new directions in fluid vaulted spaces enclosed beneath freeform domed space which now might be supported merely at points rather than in the traditional constricting ring.

Geodesic domes were invented after World War I and popularized by Buckminster Fuller.

Many sports stadiums are domed, especially in climates that have widely-variable summer and winter weather. The first such stadium was the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. A major improvement to the domed stadium was accomplished with the construction of SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, in Toronto, Ontario, the first domed stadium with a retractable roof.

General types

Corbel dome

A corbel dome.

A corbel dome is different from a 'true dome' in that it consists of purely horizontal layers. As the layers get higher, each is slightly cantilevered, or corbeled, toward the center until meeting at the top. A famous example is the Mycenaean Treasury of Atreus.

Onion dome

An onion dome.

The onion dome is a bulbous shape tapering smoothly to a point, strongly resembling an onion, after which they are named, and exemplified by Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow and the Taj Mahal. They are found mostly in eastern architecture, particularly in Russia, Turkey, India, and the Middle East. An onion dome is a type of architectural dome usually associated with Russian Orthodox churches. Such a dome is larger in diameter than the drum it is set upon and its height usually exceeds its width.

Oval dome

An oval dome.

The oval dome is closely associated with the Baroque style. The term comes from the Latin ovum, meaning "egg". Though the oval dome is typically identified with churches of Bernini and Borromini, the first baroque oval dome was erected by Vignola for a chapel, Sant'Andrea in Via Flaminia often called Sant'Andrea del Vignola. Julius III commissioned the dome in 1552 and construction finished the following year.[17] The largest oval dome was built in the basilica of Vicoforte by Francesco Gallo.

Parabolic dome

A parabolic dome is a unique structure, in which bending stress due to the UDL of its dead load is zero. Hence it was widely used in buildings in ancient times, before the advent of composite structures. However if a point load is applied on the apex of a parabolic dome, the bending stress becomes infinite. Hence it is found in most ancient structures, the apex of the dome is stiffened or the shape modified to avoid the infinite stress.

Polygonal dome

A domical vault.

Technically domical vaults, these are domes which maintain a polygonal shape in their horizontal cross section. The most famous example is the Renaissance octagonal dome of Filippo Brunelleschi over the Florence Cathedral. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, installed an octagonal dome above the West front of his plantation house, Monticello.[18]

Sail dome

A sail vault.

A sail dome, more commonly called a sail vault, can be thought of as pendentives which, rather than merely touching each other to form a circular base for a drum or compound dome, smoothly continue their curvature to form the dome itself. The dome gives the impression of a square sail pinned down at each corner and billowing upward.

Saucer dome

A large saucer dome.

A saucer dome is the architectural term used for a low pitched shallow dome which is described geometrically as having a circular base and a segmental (less than a semicircle) section. A section across the longer axis results in a low dome, capping the volume. A very low dome is a saucer dome. Many of the largest existing domes are of this shape.

Gaining in popularity from the 18th century onwards, the saucer dome is often a feature of interior design. When viewed from below it resembles the shallow concave shape of a saucer. The dome itself, being often contained in the space between ceiling and attic, may be invisible externally. These domes are usually decorated internally by ornate plaster-work, occasionally they are frescoed.

They are seen occasionally externally in Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques. Most of the mosques in India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have these type of domes.

Umbrella dome

An umbrella dome.

Also called pumpkin, melon, scalloped, or parachute domes, these are a type of dome segmented by ribs radiating from the center of the dome to the base. The material between the ribs arches from one to the other, transferring the downward force to them. The central dome of the Hagia Sophia uses this method, allowing a ring of windows to be placed between the ribs at the base of the dome. The central dome of St. Peter's Basilica also uses this method.

Influential domes

Domes that have been disproportionately influential in later architecture are those of the Pantheon in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern Istanbul), and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. In Western architecture, the most influential domes built after the early Renaissance exploit of Brunelleschi's Florentine dome have been those of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and Jules Hardouin-Mansart's dome at Les Invalides in Paris. The dome of St. Paul's Cathedral in London was the inspiration for the United States Capitol in Washington, which in turn inspired domes of most of the US state capitols.

Domes in buildings of worship

The dome of Masjid al-Nabawi dates back to at least the 12th century.

Domes also play a very important part in places of worship where they can represent and symbolise different aspects of the religion. Eastern Orthodox churches, for example, have domes which represent heaven. The dome's purpose is to remind people that to gain God's blessing it is necessary to accept salvation through Christ. Domes can also be found in Islamic places of worship, called mosques. In an Orthodox church the domes have pictures of Jesus, while mosque domes have geometric patterns or Arabic calligraphy, as Islam rejects the use of images of Muhammad or other Muslim prophets. The domes are traditional in Islam, and also make the building clearly recognizable from a distance.

See also


  1. ^ Rasch, Jürgen (1985), "Die Kuppel in der römischen Architektur. Entwicklung, Formgebung, Konstruktion", Architectura 15: 117–139 (117) 
  2. ^ Hitchcock, Don. Don's Maps. "Mezhirich - Mammoth Camp". Accessed on August 15, 2009
  3. ^ Chisholm, Hugh. The encyclopædia britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences ..., Volume 27 (page 957) At the University press, 1911
  4. ^ Leick, Gwendolyn. A dictionary of ancient Near Eastern architecture (page 202) Routledge, 1988
  5. ^ Gwendolyn Leick: A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Architecture, London and New York 2003, p. 64 ISBN 0-203-19965-0
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Crandall, David P. The Place of Stunted Ironwood Trees: A Year in the Lives of the Cattle-herding Himba of Namibia, (page 34-35) Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000. 269 pages. ISBN 082641270X
  9. ^ The Roman Pantheon: The Triumph of Concrete
  10. ^ Kleinbauer, W. Eugène. perspectives in Western art history: an anthology of twentieth-century writings on the visual arts. Volume 25 of Medieval Academy reprints for teaching. (page 253) University of Toronto Press, 1989. 528 pages.
  11. ^ Kleinbauer, W. Eugène. perspectives in Western art history: an anthology of twentieth-century writings on the visual arts. Volume 25 of Medieval Academy reprints for teaching. (page 255) University of Toronto Press, 1989. 528 pages.
  12. ^ Sir Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture. 18th ed. London, Athelone Press(1975) ISBN 0-485550-01-6
  13. ^ Chisholm, Hugh. The encyclopædia britannica: a dictionary of arts, sciences ..., Volume 27 (page 957) At the University press, 1911
  14. ^ Cathedrals are known as "duomo" in Italian or "Dom" in German, not because they possess domes. The term stems from the Latin noun "domus", thus a cathedral is a "domus dei" - a house of God.
  15. ^ Evelyn, Diary 28 August 1666, noted by John Summerson, "The mind of Wren" reprinted in Heavenly Mansions, 1963:72.
  16. ^ Millers, Keith. St. Peter's. Harvard University Press, 2007 (page 61)
  17. ^
  18. ^ Kern, Chris. "Jefferson's Dome at Monticello". http://www.ChrisKern.Net/essay/jeffersonsDomeAtMonticello.html. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DOME (Lat domes, house; Ital. duomo, cathedral), an architectural term, derived from a characteristic feature of Italian cathedrals, correctly applied only to a spherical or spheroidal vault, the horizontal plan of which is always a circle. It may be supported on a circular wall, as in the Pantheon at Rome; or on a drum, as in the later Byzantine churches and generally so in the Renaissance styles; or be carried over a square or polygonal area, in which case the base of the dome is connected to the lines of the main wall by pendentives, squinches, corbels or a series of concentric arches, or two of these combined. Its section may be semicircular, pointed, ovoid or segmental; in the latter case it is usually termed a cupola, although the pendentives which carry it continue, on the diagonal lines, the complete spherical dome, as in the entrance vestibule on the south side of the Sanctuary at Jerusalem, attributed to Herod, or in those crowning the bays of the Golden Gateway by Justinian. The dome may be constructed in horizontal courses, as in the "beehive" tombs at Mycenae, with joints radiating to the centre, or a compromise between the two, in a series of small segments of circles, as in the Temple of Jupiter in Diocletian's palace at Spalato, or again with the lower portion in horizontal courses and the upper portion with arches, as in the Pantheon at Rome.

The dome is probably one of the earliest forms of covering invented by man, but owing probably to its construction in ephemeral materials, such as the unburnt bricks in Chaldaea, there are no examples existing. But in a bas-relief (see Architecture, fig. 10), brought by Layard from Kuyunjik, are representations of semicircular and ovoid domes, which show that the feature was well known in Assyria, and as they build domes of the same nature down to the present day and without centring of any kind, it suggests that they may have existed from the remotest ages. The most ancient examples in Europe are those of the "beehive" tombs at Mycenae and elsewhere in Greece, ascribed generally to the rah century B.C. In a sense, they are not true domes, because they are built in horizontal courses of stone, which act like the voussoirs of an arch in resisting the thrust of the earth at the back. This did not exist in the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates or other circular buildings in Greece, because their vertical sections were not portions of circles. For this reason, the conical vault of the Baths in Pompeii not a dome. The circular Laconicon in the Baths of Titus (A. D. 72) may have been domed, and the great hemicycles in the Thermae must certainly have been roofed with semi-domes.

The earliest Roman domes are those of the great circular halls at Baiae near Naples, described as temples, but really forming part of the immense bathing establishments there, the favourite place of resort of the Romans during the latter part of the Republic. The largest on the east side of the Lake of Avernus, known as the Temple of Apollo, is a circular hall with an internal diameter of ioo ft. Those of Diana, Mercury and Venus at Baiae, were 96, 66 and 60 ft. respectively. The vaults were all built in tufa with horizontal courses in brick and cement. Half of the dome of the Temple of Mercury had fallen down, showing the section to have been nearly that of an equilateral arch. From the fact that there were pierced openings or windows in all these domes, they probably constituted the frigidaria of the baths.

The first example still existing in Rome is that of the Pantheon (A.D.112), where a circular dome, 142 ft. in diameter, rests on a circular wall, its height being about equal to its diameter. The lower courses of this dome, built in the Roman brick or tile, were, up to the top of the third coffer, all laid in horizontal courses; above that, the construction is not known for certain; externally a series of small arches is shown, but they rested on a shell already built. The so-called Temple of Minerva Medica (now recognized as the Nymphaeum of the Baths of Gallienus, A. D. 366) is the next dated example. The Nymphaeum was decagonal on plan, so that small pendentives were required to carry the brick dome.

The domed Laconicon of the Thermae of Diocletian (A.D. 302) still exists as the vestibule of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Of Constantine's time there are two small domed examples in the tomb of S. Costanza and the Baptistery of the Lateran, both in Rome, and one in the tomb of Galla Placidia at Ravenna (c. A.D. 450). From these we pass to the Sassanian domes at Serbistan and Firuzabad, of the 4th and 5th centuries respectively. These were built in brick and rested on square pendentives. In section they were ovoid. In Syria, the dome over the octagonal church at Esra, built in stone and dated A.D. 515, is also ovoid, its height being equal to its diameter, i.e. 28 ft. This, as well as the Sassanian domes, was built without centring. The next example is that of the church of Sta Sophia at Constantinople, the finest example existing, both in its conception and execution. It was built by Justinian (537-552) from the designs of Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. The dome is 104 ft. in diameter, and is carried on pendentives over a square area. The construction is of brick and stone in alternate courses, and the lower part of the dome is pierced with forty windows, which give it an extraordinary lightness. The height from the pavement of the church to the soffit of the dome is 179 No dome of similar dimensions was ever again attempted by the Byzantine architects, and the principal difference in later examples was the raising of the dome on a circular drum pierced with windows.

In order to lighten the dome erected over the church of San Vitale, at Ravenna, it was constructed with hollow cylindrical jars, fitted, the end of one into the mouth of the other; a similar contrivance was adopted in the tomb of the empress Helena (the Torre Pignatiara), the vaults of the Circus of Maxentius on the Via Appia, and the outer aisles of San Stefano, all at Rome, thus dispensing with the buttresses of Sta Sophia.

The domes of the earlier mosques in Cairo were built on the model of Sta Sophia, with windows pierced round the base of the dome and external buttresses between them; these domes were all built in brick coated over with cement or stucco. At a later date, and when built in stone, the upper portion was raised in height and terminated with a point on which a finial was placed. These are the domes inside and outside Cairo, which are carved with an infinity of geometrical patterns interwoven with conventional floral decoration. The upper portion of the dome is very thin, so that there is little weight and comparatively no thrust, and it is to these facts that we probably owe their preservation.

In India, in the "great mosque" of Jama Masjid (A.D. 1560) and the Gol Gumbaz, or tomb of Mahommed Adil Shah (A. D. 1630) at Bijapur, the domes are carried on pendentives consisting of arches crossing one another and projecting inwards, and their weight counteracts any thrust there may be in the dome. It is possibly for a similar reason that in the Jama Masjid of Shah Jahan at Delhi (1632-1638) and the Taj Mahal (A.D. 1630) the domes assume a bulbous form, the increased thickness of the dome below the haunches by its weight served as a counterpoise to any thrust the upper part of the dome might exert. The form is not much to be admired, and when exaggerated, as it is in the churches of Russia, where it was introduced by the Tatars, at times it became monstrous.

From these we pass to the domes of Perigord and La Charente, the earliest of which date from the commencement of the IIth century. Of the western dome of St Etienne at Perigueux (A.D. 14) only the pendentives remain, sufficient, however, with later examples, to show that these French domes were different from the Byzantine both in construction and form. The pendentives are built on horizontal courses of stone, and the voussoirs of the pointed arches which carried them form part of the pendentives; a few feet above the top of the arches is a moulding and a ledge, above which the dome, ovoid in section, is built. The principal examples following St Etienne are those of S. Jean-de-Cole, Cahors, Souillac, Solignac, Angouleme, Fontevrault, and lastly St Front at Perigueux, built about 1150, in imitation of St Mark's at Venice. The domes of the latter church were introduced into the old basilica about 1063, and were based on the church of the Apostles at Constantinople, which was pulled down in the 15th century, so that we have only the clear description of Procopius to go by. The domes over the north and south transepts and the choir of St Mark's are smaller than those over the nave and crossing, because they had to be fitted in between more ancient structures. The construction of the domes of St Mark's is not known, but at St Front the general design only was copied, and they built them in the Perigordian manner. The masons from Perigord are also responsible for the domes of the Crusaders' churches in Palestine and for some of the early churches still remaining in Cyprus. The domes of San Cyriaco at Ancona and Sant' Antonio at Padua were based upon those of St Mark's at Venice.

In central Italy we have the dome (elliptical in plan) of the cathedral of Pisa, and it was a favourite feature over the crossing of the churches throughout Italy, being generally carried on squinch pendentives. The domes of the baptisteries of Florence, Parma, Trieste and Piacenza, are only internal, being enclosed with vertical walls and a sloping roof. In Sicily, on account of the strong Saracenic influence, the squinches are simple versions of the stalactite pendentives described under Architecture: Mahommedan, the earliest example being found in the church of San Giovanni-dei-Leprosi (A.D. 1072), all the domes being ovoid in section.

Except in Perigord and La Charente, domes are not found in the churches in France, but in Spain they were introduced over the crossing at Burgos, Tarragona and Salamanca cathedrals, and were made architectural features externally. This is rarely found in Germany, for although in the cathedrals of Worms, Spires and Mainz, and in the churches of St Martin and Sankt Maria im Capitol at Cologne, the crossings are covered by domes, always carried on squinch pendentives, externally they built lanterns round them.

In the Renaissance styles, the dome was at once accepted as the principal characteristic feature, and its erection over the crossing of Santa Maria del Fiore at Florence was the first important work entrusted to Brunelleschi. The dome was begun in 1422, and finished in 1431, with the exception of the lantern, begun the year of his death in 1444, and completed in 1471. The dome, which is octagonal on plan, is 139 ft. in diameter, and is built with an inner and outer casing, concentric one with the other, tied together by ribs between them: the lower portion is stone, the upper part is brick.

The double shell was also employed by Michelangelo in the dome of St Peter's at Rome, the outer shell being raised higher than the lower and connected by ribs one with the other. The diameter is 140 ft. and the construction in brick, similar to that at Florence, but the ribs are in stone from Tivoli. In both these cases the weight of the lantern was a very important consideration, and is responsible for the repeated repairs required and the introduction of additional ties.

In this respect Sir Christopher Wren solved the difficulty at St Paul's cathedral, London, in another way: he provided three shells, the lower one with an eye in the centre forming the inner dome as seen from the interior; the middle one of conical form, and the outer one framed in timber and covered with lead. The conical shell carries the lantern, the weight of which is carried direct to the base, bound with iron ties, with such additional strength as may be given by the portico round.

In all these cases these domes are built on lofty drums, so that externally they present quite a different appearance to those of the Pantheon at Rome, or Sta Sophia in Constantinople.

Of other examples, the domes of the Invalides in Paris, by Mansard (1706), and of the Pantheon by Soufflot (173 5), have each three shells, the former having a graceful outline. In Spain the dome of the cathedral at Granada (1530) and the Escurial (1563); in Italy those of Sta Maria della Salute at Venice, the small example of Bramante at Todi (1480) and of the Carignano at Genoa, are worth recording, as also the dome of the Suleimanie mosque at Constantinople (1550). See plates illustrating ARCHITECTURE; and INDIAN ARCHITECTURE. (R. P. S.)

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dome (plural domes)

  1. A common structural element of architecture that resembles the hollow upper half of a sphere.
  2. Anything shaped like an upset bowl, often used as a cover, e.g. a cake dome.
  3. Slang for head
    • I got 5 Georgia homes where I rest my Georgia bones, Come anywhere on my land and I'll aim at your Georgia dome.- Ludacris



Simple English

A dome is a feature of architecture that usually looks like the upper half of a sphere on top of a building.

It is a feature that makes many religious and government buildings stand out, because if someone is speaking to others inside or under a dome, the voice sounds louder. Also a dome makes it easier to identify an important building, for example a temple or a palace.


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