10 Historic Domes Around the World

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When the Houston Astrodome opened in 1965, it became known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Unfortunately, the Astrodome aged horribly and has been abandoned for many years. But a number of much older domes, some more than 1,000 years old, are still just as stunning today as when they were built. Here are a few historic domes that, unlike the short-lived Astrodome, are still architectural and historic wonders. To avoid any notion these are ranked in order of historic, religious, or architectural significance, we’ve put them in chronological order.

 

10. Salt Lake City Tabernacle

The Salt Lake City Tabernacle dome’s internal structure was built out of wooden trusses. © J.W. Bengal

The Tabernacle celebrates the 150th anniversary of its completion in 2017, and some people still poke fun at the unwieldy appearance of its dome. Yet noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright once called the tabernacle “one of the architectural masterpieces of the country and perhaps the world.” The dome’s original construction method is certainly unusual, relying on sandstone piers and wood lattice trusses assembled with wooden pegs and rawhide strips. The dome has since been retrofitted with an aluminum roof and steel trusses to provide additional support while maintaining the original wood-lattice structure. Thanks in part to that unique design, the home of the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir is renowned for its incredible acoustic properties.

 

9. United States Capitol

The U.S. Capitol’s first dome, a green copper structure (top) crowned the building for three decades. © Martin Falbisoner

Although the capitol building was finished in 1800, it looked very different in its early years. The original building did not have a dome and the first one, completed in 1823, was a rather plain, green copper structure. That top stood for more than 30 years, until the government commissioned the current stately white dome recognized around the world. It was completed in 1866.

 

8. St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London influenced the design of the U.S. Capitol. © Mark Fosh

This famous church’s dome dominates the London skyline, and greatly influenced the design of the U.S. Capitol dome. Completed in 1711, St. Paul’s 365-foot dome is still among the highest in the world. That the landmark is still standing today after being shelled by the Germans during World War II is either a stroke of luck or divine providence.

 

7. Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was selected as one of the “New7Wonders of the World.” © Diganta Talukdar

For years, people referred to India’s Taj Mahal as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” but that changed in 2007, when it earned inclusion as one of the “New7Wonders of the World.” Built as a mausoleum for a Persian princess who died in childbirth, the Taj Mahal has stood since 1643. Like the other domes mentioned here, it was a remarkable engineering feat for the era; estimates of the Taj Mahal’s construction cost range from several hundred million dollars (in 2016 currency) to more than $1 billion.

 

6. St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica is the tallest dome in the world. © Sébastien Bertrand

Michelangelo, who designed the dome for this sacred church, wanted to build the greatest dome in the Christian world. Mission accomplished: Almost 400 years after its completion in 1626, St. Peter’s dome is still the tallest dome in the world, at 448 feet tall. By comparison, the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium dome is only 320 feet tall. A few years ago, workers at the Vatican City basilica made a remarkable discovery — Michelangelo’s original sketch for the ambitious dome, dating to 1563.

 

5. Florence Cathedral (Il Duomo di Firenze)

The Florence Cathedral is the largest brick dome in the world. © Petar Milošević

Completed in 1436, this cathedral in Florence, Italy, took 140 years to build. Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome is an engineering marvel, one of the greatest feats of the Renaissance. What makes Brunelleschi’s innovative design of the structure even more amazing is that he had no formal engineering training when he began work on the project in 1420. Yet today, Brunelleschi is regarded as one of the fathers of modern engineering and the Renaissance. The 376-foot structure remains the largest brick dome in the world.

 

4. Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is the most recognizable landmark in Jerusalem. © Godot 13

This Muslim shrine’s gold dome stands out dramatically against the largely monotone Jerusalem cityscape, making it arguably the most recognizable landmark in this historic city. It’s located on the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. Not surprisingly, access to Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock is highly restricted, especially to non-Muslims.

 

3. Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia has stood almost 1,500 years, but an earthquake could bring the structure down. © Pedro Szekely

Despite standing for almost 1,500 years, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (Greek for “holy wisdom”) faces several threats today. Now a museum, this former cathedral and mosque is in disrepair. Even more troublesome, it sits atop a geological fault; a major earthquake could bring the entire structure down. An earthquake in 558 caused the original dome to collapse.

 

2. Jetavanaramaya

Sri Lanka’s Jetavanaramaya was one of the tallest structures in the ancient world. © Mahesh Kularatne

Constructed in the third century, Sri Lanka’s Jetavanaramaya was one of the tallest structures in the ancient world, at 400 feet in height. It’s a stupa, a sacred place in Buddhism containing a relic from Buddha. Located in the World Heritage Site of the ancient city of Anuradhapura, the Jetavanaramaya and the surrounding city were abandoned in 993; the dome was buried by the jungle and remained hidden for almost a thousand years before the British rediscovered the sacred site in the mid-19th century.

 

1. Pantheon

Rome’s Pantheon remains the world’s largest unreinforced solid concrete dome. © Nada via Flickr

Fires destroyed two earlier versions of Rome’s Pantheon, but the iconic structure we know today dates to 128 AD. The Pantheon and its dome have had a profound influence on architecture; it remains the world’s largest unreinforced solid concrete dome. Despite its historic status, and the fact it welcomes several million visitors a year, the Pantheon still operates as a Catholic church.

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