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Dome through History

Rekha Jain
Generic True Arch and Corbel Arch
• 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 horizontal 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
of voussoirs which have ultimately turned 90 degrees
from the base of the dome to the top.

• When the base of the dome does not match the plan
of the supporting walls beneath it such as a circular
dome on a square bay, techniques are employed to
transition between the two. The simplest technique is
to use diagonal lintels across the corners of the walls to
create an octagonal base. Another is to use arches
called squinches to span the corners, which can
support more weight. The invention
of pendentives superseded the squinch
technique. Pendentives are triangular sections of a
sphere used to transition from the flat surfaces of
supporting walls to the round base of a dome.

• Corbel Domes and true domes have been found in
the ancient Middle East in modest buildings and
tombs. The construction of the first technically
advanced true domes began in the Roman
Architectural Revolution 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.
• Squinches, the technique of making a transition
from a square shaped room to a circular dome,
was most likely invented by the ancient Persians.
The Sassanid Empire initiated the construction of
the first large-scale domes in Persia, with such
royal buildings as the Palace of
Ardashir, Sarvestan and Ghal'eh Dokhtar. With
the Muslim conquest of Greek-Roman Syria,
the Byzantine architectural style became a major
influence on Muslim societies. Indeed the use of
domes as a feature of Islamic architecture has
gotten its roots from Roman Greater-Syria.
• Since pre historic time domes were not used as
important feature of building
• They extensively used mud - brick or adobe
• Examples of true domes and stone pendentives
domes in Mesopotamia culture are visible
• Stone corbelled domes were found in sites from
middle east to western europe
• Ancient Greek buildings were featured with
wooden shallow wooden triangular domes
• The technique of domical like structure, later
shape derived as tent were developed for
temporary structures in traditional Central
Asia later adopted by Alexender the Great
• Roman Byzantine architecture was great
inspired by this shape of dome
• The early period of Hellinistic era, Sicily, the
domed / vaults roof made in terracotta, were
found in Baths
• The proper domes with technical detailing
were developed and extensively used in Public
Bath, Temples, church, villas, palaces and
• The massive brick / stone domes were
supported at wall further supported by
• Domes enhanced the monumental quality of
Roman buildings
• As can be seen in remaining of the Pompeii, the
domes were extensively used in Bath cold room
and warm room in order to enhance the heat or
conserve the heat
• Ancient Roman domes constructed in concrete by
temporary timber frame support/ centering
• Temple of Mercury constructed with 21.5m dia
base. It is the first use of dome to make building
as monument before Pantheon
• The Pantheon, a temple in Rome completed by Emperor
Hadrian as part of the Baths of Agrippa, is the most famous,
best preserved, and largest Roman dome. Dating from the
2nd century, it is an unreinforced concrete dome 43.4
meters wide resting on a circular wall, or rotunda, 6 meters
thick. This rotunda, made of brick-faced concrete, contains
a large number of relieving arches and is not solid. Seven
interior niches and the entrance way divide the wall
structurally into eight virtually independent piers. These
openings and additional voids account for a quarter of the
rotunda wall's volume. The only opening in the dome is the
brick-lined oculus at the top, nine meters in diameter,
which provides light and ventilation for the interior.
• The shallow coffering in the dome accounts for a less than
five percent reduction in the dome's mass, and is mostly
decorative. The aggregate material hand-placed in the
concrete is heaviest at the base of the dome and changes
to lighter materials as the height increases, dramatically
reducing the stresses in the finished structure. In fact, many
commentators cite the Pantheon as an example of the
revolutionary possibilities for monolithic
architecture provided by the use of
Roman pozzolana concrete. However, vertical cracks seem
to have developed very early, such that in practice the
dome acts as an array of arches with a common keystone,
rather than as a single unit.
• The exterior step-rings used to compress the
"haunches" of the dome, which would not be
necessary if the dome acted as a monolithic structure,
may be an acknowledgement of this by the builders
themselves. Such buttressing was common in Roman
arch construction. Hadrian is believed to have held
court in the Pantheon rotunda using the main apse
opposite the entrance as a tribune, which may explain
its very large size. No other dome built in the Imperial
era came close to the span of the dome of the
Pantheon. It remained the largest dome in the world
for more than a millennium and is still the world's
largest unreinforced concrete dome.
• Construction of domes in the Muslim
world reached its peak during the 16th – 18th
centuries, when
the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires,
ruling an area of the World compromising North
Africa, the Middle East and South- and Central
Asia, applied lofty domes to their religious
buildings to create a sense of heavenly
transcendence. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque,
the Shah Mosque and the Badshahi Mosque are
primary examples of this style of architecture.

• In the 4th century, Roman domes proliferated due to changes in the
way domes were constructed, including advances
in centering techniques and the use of brick ribbing. The so-called
"Temple of Minerva Medica", for example, used brick ribs along
with step-rings and lightweight pumice aggregate concrete to form
a decagonal dome. The material of choice in construction gradually
transitioned during the 4th and 5th centuries from stone or
concrete to lighter brick in thin shells. The use of ribs stiffened the
structure, allowing domes to be thinner with less massive
supporting walls. Windows were often used in these walls and
replaced the oculus as a source of light, although buttressing was
sometimes necessary to compensate for large openings. The
Mausoleum of Santa Costanza has windows beneath the dome and
nothing but paired columns beneath that, using a
surrounding barrel vault to buttress the structure.
• 6th-century church building by the Emperor
Justinian used the domed cross unit on a monumental
scale, in keeping with Justinian's emphasis on bold
architectural innovation. His church architecture
emphasized the central dome. Centrally planned
domed churches had been built since the 4th century
for very particular functions, such as palace churches
or martyria, with a slight widening of use around 500
AD, but Justinian's architects make the domed brick-
vaulted central plan standard throughout the Roman
east. This divergence with the Roman west from the
second third of the 6th century may be considered the
beginning of a "Byzantine" architecture.
• After the Nika Revolt destroyed much of the
city of Constantinople in 532, Justinian had
the opportunity to rebuild. Both the churches
of Hagia Irene ("Holy Peace") and Hagia
Sophia ("Holy Wisdom") were burned down.
Both had been basilica plan churches and both
were rebuilt as domed basilicas, although the
Hagia Sophia was rebuilt on a much grander
• The Cross-in-square plan, with a single dome at the crossing or five
domes in a quincunx pattern, became widely popular in the Middle
Byzantine period. It is the most common church plan from the tenth
century until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Examples include an
early 9th century church in Tirilye, now called the Fatih Mosque,
and a palace chapel built around 920, called the Myrelaion. This
type of plan, with four columns supporting the dome at the
crossing, was best suited for domes less than 7 meters wide and,
from the tenth to the 14th centuries, a typical Byzantine dome
measured less than 6 meters in diameter. For domes beyond that
width, however, variations in the plan were required such as using
piers in place of the columns and incorporating further buttressing
around the core of the building. In this period, domes were
normally built to emphasize separate functional spaces, rather than
as the modular ceiling units they had been earlier.
• Another variant of the cross-in-square, the "so-called atrophied
Greek cross plan", also provides greater support for a dome than
the typical cross-in-square plan by using four piers projecting from
the corners of an otherwise square naos, rather than four relatively
slender columns. This design was used in the Chora Church of
Constantinople in the 12th century after the previous cross-in-
square structure was destroyed by an earthquake.
• Examples of the five-domed cross-in-square church in the Late
Byzantine style include the Church of Holy, Apostles in Thessaloniki,
circa 1329, and the Gračanica monastery, built around 1311
in Serbia. The architect and artisans of the Gračanica monastery
church probably came from Thessaloniki and its style reflects
Byzantine cultural influence.

• Byzantine domes and techniques of religious architecture
spread to the surrounding Christian nations, such
as Georgia and Armenia. Armenian church domes were
initially wooden structure. Etchmiadzin Cathedral(c. 483)
originally had a wooden dome covered by a wooden
pyramidal roof before this was replaced with stone
construction in 618. Churches with stone domes became
the standard type after the 7th century, perhaps benefiting
from a possible exodus of stonecutters from Syria, but the
long traditions of wooden construction carried over
stylistically. Some examples in stone as late as the 12th
century are detailed imitations of clearly wooden

• Byzantine domes on windowed drums typically
incorporated wooden tension rings at several levels within
the structures, a technique frequently said to be a later
invention of Filippo Brunelleschi. Metal clamps between
stone cornice blocks, metal tie rods, and metal chains were
also used to stabilize domed construction. Timber belts at
the bases of domes help to stabilize the walls below them
during earthquakes, but the domes themselves remain
vulnerable to collapse.The technique of using double shells
for domes, although revived in the Renaissance, originated
in Byzantine practice. Roofing for domes ranged from
simple ceramic tile to more expensive, more durable, and
more form-fitting lead sheeting.

• The Persian invention of the squinch, a series of
concentric arches forming a half-cone over the corner
of a room, enabled the transition from the walls of a
square chamber to an octagonal base for a dome.
Previous transitions to a dome from a square chamber
existed but were makeshift in quality and only
attempted on a small scale, not being reliable enough
for large constructions. The squinch enabled domes to
be widely used and they move to the forefront of
Persian architecture as a result. The ruins of the Palace
of Ardashir and Ghal'eh Dokhtar in Fars Province, Iran,
built by Ardashir I (224–240) of the Sasanian Empire,
have the earliest known examples.
• The three domes of the Palace of Ardashir are 45 feet in diameter and
vertically elliptical, each with a central opening or oculus to admit
light. The large brick dome of the Sarvestan Palace, also in Fars but later in
date, shows more elaborate decoration and four windows between the
corner squinches. The building may have been a Fire temple. Instead of
using a central oculus in each dome, as at the Palace of Ardashir and as
shown in the bas relief found at Kuyunjik, lighting was provided by a
number of hollow terracotta cylinders set into the domes at regular

Multiple written accounts from Arabic, Byzantine, and Western
medieval sources describe a palace domed structure over the throne
of Chosroes decorated in blue and gold. The dome was covered with
depictions of the sun, moon, stars, planets, the zodiac, astrapai, and kings,
including Chosroes himself. According to Ado and others, the dome could
produce rain, and could be rotated with a sound like thunder by means of
ropes pulled by horses in a basement. Caravansaries used the domed bay
from the Sasanian period to the Qajar dynasty.

• The earliest known Islamic domes in Persia, such as the Great Mosque
of Qom (878) and the tomb of Muhammed b. Musa (976), seem to have
continued the rounded Sasanian form. Domed mausoleums contributed
greatly to the development and spread of the dome in Persia early in the
Islamic period,. By the 10th century, domed tombs had been built
for Abbasid caliphs and Shiite martyrs. Pilgrimage to these sites may have
helped to spread the for. The earliest surviving example, the Qubbat-al
Sulaibiya, was an octagonal structure with a central dome on a drum built
around 892 in Samarra.
The Samanid Mausoleum in Transoxiana dates to
no later than 943 and is the first to have squinches create a regular
octagon as a base for the dome, which then became the standard
practice. The Arab-Ata Mausoleum, also in Transoxiana, may be dated to
977–78 and uses muqarnas between the squinches for a more unified
transition to the dome. Cylindrical or polygonal plan tower tombs with
conical roofs over domes also exist beginning in the 11th century. The
earliest example is the Gonbad-e Qabus tower tomb, 57 meters high and
spanning 9.7 meters, which was built in 1007.
• The Il-Khanate legacy also laid the groundwork for a separate architectural
style, Timurid Islamic architecture, which later became an inspiration to Mughal
architects. During the 14th and 15th century, Timur and his successors
adorned Samarkand and other Central-Asian cities with spectacular and stately
edifices. The Sanctuary of Ahmed Yasawi, situated in southern Kazakhstan was
never finished, but has the largest existing brick dome in Central Asia, measuring
18.2 m in diameter. The dome exterior is covered with hexagonal green glazed tiles
with gold patterns.
• At the Timurid capital of Samarkand, nobles and rulers in the 14th and 15th
centuries began building tombs with double-shelled domes containing cylindrical
masonry drums between the shells. In the Gur-e Amir, built by Timur around 1404,
a timber framework on the inner dome supports the outer, bulbous dome. Radial
tie-bars at the base of the bulbous dome provide additional structural support.
Timber reinforcement rings and rings of stone linked by iron cramps were also
used to compensate for the structural problems introduced by using such
drum. A miniature painted at Samarkand shows that bulbous cupolas were used to
cover small wooden pavilions in Persia by the beginning of the fifteenth century.
They gradually gained in popularity.

• Pisa Cathedral, built between 1063 and 1118, includes a
high elliptical dome at the crossing of its nave and transept. The dome was
one of the first in Romanesque architecture and is considered
the masterpiece of Romanesque domes. Rising 48 meters above a
rectangular bay, the shape of the dome was unique at the time. The
rectangular bay's dimensions are 18 meters by 13.5 meters. Squinches
were used at the corners to create an elongated octagon and corbelling
used to create an oval base for the dome. The tambour on which the
dome rests dates to between 1090 and 1100, and it is likely that the dome
itself was built at that time. There is evidence that the builders did not
originally plan for the dome and decided on the novel shape to
accommodate the rectangular crossing bay, which would make an
octagonal cloister vault very difficult. Additionally, the dome may have
originally been covered by a lantern tower which was removed in the
1300s, exposing the dome, to reduce weight on foundations not designed
to support it. This would have been done no later than 1383, when
the Gothic loggetta on the exterior of the dome was added, along with the
buttressing arches on which it rests.
• The domed "Decagon" nave of St. Gereon's
Basilica in Cologne, Germany, a ten-sided space in an
oval shape, was built between 1219 and 1227 upon the
remaining low walls of a 4th-century Roman
martyrium. The ribbed dome rises four stories and
34.55 meters above the floor, covering an oval area 21
meters long and 16.9 meters wide. It is unique among
the twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne, and in
European architecture in general, and may have been
the largest dome built in this period in Western Europe
until the completion of the dome of Florence
• The multi domed church is a typical form of Russian church
architecture, which distinguishes Russia from other Orthodox
nations and Christian denominations. Indeed, the earliest Russian
churches, built just after the Christianization of Kievan Rus', were
multi-domed, which has led some historians to speculate about
how Russian pre-Christian pagan temples might have looked.
Examples of these early churches are the 13-domed wooden Saint
Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod and the 25-domed
stone Desyatinnaya Church in Kiev. The number of domes typically
has a symbolical meaning in Russian architecture, for example 13
domes symbolize Christ with 12 Apostles, while 25 domes means
the same with an additional 12 Prophets of the Old Testament. The
multiple domes of Russian churches were often comparatively
smaller than Byzantine domes.
• The earliest stone churches in Russia featured Byzantine style domes, however by
the Early Modern era the onion dome had become the predominant form in
traditional Russian architecture. The onion dome is a dome whose shape
resembles an onion, after which they are named. Such domes are often larger in
diameter than the drum upon which they are set, and their height usually exceeds
their width. The whole bulbous structure tapers smoothly to a point. Though the
earliest preserved Russian domes of such type date from the 16th century,
illustrations from older chronicles indicate that they were at least used since the
late 13th century. Like tented roofs, which were combined with and sometimes
replaced domes in Russian architecture since the 16th century, onion domes
initially were used only in wooden churches and were introduced into stone
architecture much later, where their carcasses continued to be made either of
wood or metal on top of masonry drums.
• Russian domes are often gilded or brightly painted. A dangerous technique of
chemical gilding using mercury had been applied on some occasions until the mid-
19th century, most notably in the giant dome of Saint Isaac's Cathedral. The more
modern and safe method of gold electroplating was applied for the first time in
gilding the domes of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, the tallest
Eastern Orthodox church in the world.

Ottoman Domes
• 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 rises above a square bay.
Corner semi-domes convert this into an octagon,
which muqarnas transition to a circular base. The
dome has an internal diameter of about 31.5
meters, while that of Hagia Sophia averages 31.3
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 rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica occurred under a succession of builders over a
span of 120 years. Bramante's initial design was for a Greek cross plan with a large
hemispherical dome at the crossing and four smaller domes around it in a
quincunx pattern. Among the alternations to the plan made by Giuliano da
Sangallo were changing the central dome to be segmental with ribs and 9 meters
higher. He strengthened the piers and completed building the
pendentives. Michelangelo redesigned the dome to be more in line with that of
Brunelleschi's large dome in Florence, with two shells, a mostly brick structure,
and three iron chains to resist outward pressure. The dome was later completed
by Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana. The double shell 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.
• Islamic rule over northern and central India brought with it the use of domes,
which would be constructed with stone, brick and mortar, and iron dowels and
cramps. Centering was made from timber and bamboo. The use of iron cramps to
join together adjacent stones was known in pre-Islamic India, and was used at the
base of domes for hoop reinforcement. The synthesis of styles created by this
introduction of new forms to the Hindu tradition of trabeate construction created
a distinctive architecture. In contrast to Persian and Ottoman domes, the domes of
Indian tombs tend to be more bulbous.
• The earliest examples include the half-domes of the late 13th century tomb of
Balban and the small dome of the tomb of Khan Shahid, which were made of
roughly cut material and would have needed covering surface finishes. The Alai
Dawarza, a gate in the Qutb complex built in 1311, has the first dome in India
made of finely dressed stone cut into voussoir blocks. Arches transition a square
chamber to an octagon, which transitions to a sixteen-sided polygon through the
use of corbelled brackets. The cut stone dome over the tomb of Ghiyath al-Din
Tughluq (d. 1325) uses alternating rings of shallow and deep stones to produce a
better bond with the core material. The use of finely cut stone voussoirs for these
domes suggest the migration of masons from the former Seljuk Empire.

• The tomb of Mohammed Adil Shah (d. 1656) in Bijapur is one of the
largest masonry domes in the world. Called the Gol Gumbaz,
or Round Dome, it has an internal diameter of 41.15 meters and a
height of 54.25 meters. The dome was built with layers of brick
between thick layers of mortar and rendered on both faces, so that
the dome acts as a concrete shell reinforced with bricks. It is 2.6
meters thick at the base. The dome was the most technically
advanced to be built in the Deccan, and exemplifies the flowering of
art and architecture that occurred during the period of the Adil
Shahi Sultanate's greatest extent. Radial cracks were repaired in
1936-7 by the application of reinforcement to the outside of the
dome, which was then covered by sprayed concrete.

Both the Gol
Gumbaz dome and the smaller dome of the Jama Masjid, a 57 foot
wide dome also at Bijapur, are above distinctive transition zones
consisting of eight intersecting arches, which narrow the openings
to be covered.
• 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 "a form of church
building," John Evelyn recorded in his diary, "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, but is evocative of the much
smaller Tempietto by Bramante.
A modern dome of Bashundhara City,the
largest shopping mall of South Asia which
situated in Dhaka Bangladesh.
• The current dome over the United States Capitol building, although
painted white and crowning a masonry building, is also made of cast iron.
The dome was built between 1855 to 1866, replacing a lower wooden
dome with copper roofing from 1824. It was completed just two years
after the Old St. Louis County Courthouse, which has the first cast iron
dome built in the United States. The initial design of the capitol dome was
influenced by a number of European church domes, particularly St.
Paul's in London, St. Peter's in Rome, the Panthéon in Paris, Les
Invalides in Paris, and St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The
architect, Thomas U. Walter, designed a double dome interior based on
that of the Panthéon in Paris.
• Spanish engineer-architect Eduardo Torroja, with Manuel Sanchez,
designed the Market Hall in Algeciras, Spain, with a thin shell
concrete dome. Built from 1933–34, the shallow dome is 48 meters
wide, 9 centimeters thick, and supported at points around its
perimeter. Popularized by a 1955 article on the work of Félix
Candela in Mexico, architectural shells had their heyday in the
1950s and 1960s, peaking in popularity shortly before the
widespread adoption of computers and the finite element
method of structural analysis. Notable examples of domes include
the Kresge Auditorium at MIT, which has a spherical shell 49 meters
wide and 89 millimeters thick, and the Palazzetto dello Sport, with a
59 meter wide dome designed by Pier Luigi Nervi. Early examples
used a relatively thick bordering girder to stabilize exposed edges.
Alternative stabilization techniques include adding a bend at these
edges to stiffen them or increasing the thickness of the shell itself
at the edges and near the supports.
• Tension membrane design has depended upon computers, and the increasing
availability of powerful computers resulted in many developments being made in
the last three decades of the 20th century. Weather-related deflations of some air-
supported roofs led David Geiger to develop a modified type, the more rigid
"Cabledome", which incorporated Fuller's ideas of tensegrity and aspension rather
than being air-supported. The pleated effect seen in some of these domes is the
result of lower radial cables stretching between those forming trusses in order to
keep the membrane in tension. The lightweight membrane system used consists of
four layers: waterproof fiberglass on the outside, insulation, a vapor barrier, then
an acoustic insulation layer. This is semitransparent enough to fulfill most daytime
lighting needs beneath the dome. The first large span examples were two Seoul,
South Korea, sports arenas built in 1986 for the Olympics, one 93 meters wide and
the other 120 meters wide. The Georgia Dome, built in 1992 on an oval plan, uses
instead a triangulated pattern in a system patented as the "Tenstar Dome". The
Millennium Dome was completed as the largest cable dome in the world with a
diameter of 320 meters and uses a different system of membrane support, with
cables extending down from the 12 masts which penetrate the membrane. The
first cable dome to use rigid steel frame panels as roofing instead of a translucent
membrane was begun for an athletic center in North Carolina in 1994.