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Ruins of the floor of a late Roman villa. The floored part is the exedra. The rest of the room disappeared and shows the columns of the hypocaust.

In architecture, an exedra[1] is a semicircular recess, often crowned by a semi-dome, which is usually set into a building's facade. The original Greek sense (a seat out of doors) was applied to a room that opened onto a stoa, ringed with curved high-backed stone benches, a suitable place for a philosophical conversation. An exedra may also be expressed by a curved break in a colonnade, perhaps with a semi-circular seat.

The exedra would typically have an apsidal podium that supported the stone running bench. The free-standing exedra, often originally supporting bronze portrait statues[2] is a familiar type of Hellenistic structure,[3] characteristically sited along sacred ways or in open places in sanctuaries, such as at Delos or Epidaurus; sometimes Hellenistic exedras were built in relation to a city's agora, as at Priene.


The exedra achieved particular popularity in Roman architecture during the Roman Empire. In the 1st century CE, Nero's architects incorporated exedrae throughout the planning of his Domus Aurea, enriching the volumes of the party rooms, a part of what made Nero's palace so breathtakingly pretentious to traditional Romans, for no one had ever seen domes and exedrae in a dwelling before. An exedra was normally a public feature: when rhetoricians and philosophers disputed in a Roman gymnasium it was in an exedra, opening into the peristyle that they gathered. A basilica featured a large exedra at the far end from its entrance, where the magistrates sat, usually raised up several steps, in hearing cases. This was called a tribuna in Latin, and tribune is used for an area of raised floor backing onto a wall, often in an exedra.

Later uses

An exedra adopted by Leo von Klenze for a neoclassical interior space, at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Following precedents from Rome, exedrae continued to be in widespread use architecturally after the fall of Rome. In Byzantine architecture and Romanesque architecture, this familiar feature developed into the apse and is fully treated there. The term exedra is still often used for secondary apses or niches in the more complicated plans of later Byzantine churches; another term is conch. A famous use of the exedra is in Donato Bramante's Cortile del Belvedere extension of the Vatican Palace.

In Muslim architecture, the exedra becomes a mihrab and invariably retains religious associations, wherever it is seen, even on the smallest scale, as a prayer niche.

Both Baroque and Neoclassical architecture used exedras. Baroque architects, (for example, Cortona in his Villa Pigneto), to enrich the play of light and shade and give rein to expressive volumes, Neoclassical architects, to articulate the rhythmic pacing of a wall elevation. A classic example of a Baroque exedra on a (comparatively) reduced scale within its context, is the central niche of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, sheltering a statue of Neptune.

The interior exedra was richly exploited by Scottish neoclassical architect, Robert Adam and his followers. During the 18th century, an exedra became a popular garden feature or folly, often used as an ornamental curved screening wall to hide another part the garden. Examples can be found at Belton House and West Wycombe Park.

Many classicizing bandshells in public parks are exedrae, for the shape, with its half-dome heading, reflects sound forwards. The Hollywood Bowl's shell (illus. at that entry) takes the form of the head of a gargantuan exedra, stripped of classicizing details.


  1. ^ The plural exedras is perfectly correct in English.
  2. ^ Their ghostly presence revealed now only by dedicatory inscriptions and cuttings in the masonry for their placement.
  3. ^ Suzanne Freifrau von Thüngen, Die Freistehende Griechische Exedra (Mainz:Zabern) 1994. Reviewed by Christopher Ratté in American Journal of Archaeology 101.1 (January 1997:181-182); Von Thüngen's catalogue, not pretending to be complete, lists 163 exedras.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EXEDRA, or Exhedra (from Gr. E, out, and apa, a seat), an architectural term originally applied to a seat or recess out of doors, intended for conversation. Such recesses were generally semicircular, as in the important example built by Herodes Atticus at Olympia. In the great Roman thermae (baths) they were of large size, and like apses were covered with a hemispherical vault. An example of these exists at Pompeii in the Street of the Tombs. From Vitruvius we learn that they were often covered over, and they are described by him (v. II) as places leading out of porticoes, where philosophers and rhetoricians could debate or harangue.

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