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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Conn Coll chapter.

Whether you’re an architecture student, an engineer, or just a passerby on the street, everyone loves domes. Domes are one of the most challenging architectural feats; they have no corners, and they enclose incredibly large spaces with little to no support underneath them. Despite their difficulty, almost every civilization has attempted to construct domes, with some doing it better than others. Here are our highly subjective rankings for the top 10 architectural domes across the globe: 

#10: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Located in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, this mosque was constructed from 1994 to 2007. Its creation was initiated by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to use modern architectural and artistic trends to unite the diverse population of the Islamic world. There is obvious inspiration taken from classic Mamluk, Ottoman, and Fatimid architectural styles, especially the inclusion of what we all came for: the domes. 

In total, this mosque features 82 domes consisting of seven different sizes and variations. They are made out of pure white marble cladding to form onion shaped ‘crowns,’ which are evident best from the exterior view. On the interior, the domes hold gorgeous Moroccan artwork and verses from the Holy Quran painted in gold. 

Obviously, this architectural masterpiece had to be included for its cultural influence and grandeur, but we placed it in 10th due to the fact that there are just too many domes. 

#9: The US Capitol Building in Washington, DC

I am sure that everyone has seen this dome on their trip to Washington, DC, in middle school, but now you get to see it again. This building was designed by a Philadelphia architect named Thomas Ustick Walter, who also designed other landmarks in the US capital. Made to be a familiar and compelling symbol of the United States’s authority, it draws inspiration from classical European domes, and takes much of its interior and exterior designs from religious temples in Ancient Greece and Rome. 

The dome is dense with symbolism, indicated by the Statue of Freedom at the top, the Apotheosis of Washington painted directly below, and the Frieze of American History encircling the rotunda.

According to the Architect of the Capitol, the Capitol dome is “a masterpiece of American will and ingenuity.” Despite this, we are ranking this dome at a solid ninth place because the Europeans did it better. Additionally, this dome had to be rebuilt several times throughout the construction of the Capitol Building, so it loses points for not getting it right on the first try.

#8. Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy

Also called the Church of San Vitale, this building is known as a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Students at Connecticut College are definitely familiar with some of the interior mosaics at the Basilica of San Vitale, such as those of Justinian I and Theodora, which are prominently on display at the entrance of Cummings Arts Center. 

Although from the outside, this basilica looks complex and noticeably dome-less, the interior shows impressive decoration and most importantly, a dome. While the church itself was constructed in the sixth century, the interior of the dome was painted with Baroque frescoes during the late eighteenth century. 

This architectural structure might not be considered impressive by today’s standards, but we gave it a spot on the list for its political and religious influence and the progressive engineering accomplished by it in the 6th century. 

#7. Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

This place has “dome” in the title, so of course it’s on our list. The incredible Dome of the Rock originated during the Umayyad Caliphate in 691 CE, and took the place of Solomon’s Temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE… typical Roman behavior. 

You have simply not seen mosaics until you have viewed the interior of this masterpiece. The interior design takes inspiration from nearby Byzantine churches and palaces, as well as Ottoman influences, as seen through the addition of a gold-plated roof. We would venture to speculate that not a single surface of this structure remains undecorated. Like other domes on this list, the Dome of the Rock has an octagonal base and is capped by an elevated circular drum and a giant dome. 

We will admit, points were taken off of this dome’s ranking for the same reason as previous domes: the original dome collapsed in 1015 CE and had to be rebuilt. We get it… but we have to be consistent. Nevertheless, this is the world’s oldest surviving example of Islamic architecture, and it is definitely a sight to see.

#6. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

Catherine has been to St. Paul’s Cathedral, so she demands that we include it in our ranking. This building has a long and complicated history. It was perhaps first a Roman temple to Diana, which was destroyed to become the first Christian cathedral dedicated to St. Paul. You would think that would be the end of it right? Wrong. That cathedral burned circa 600 CE and was replaced by a third building on the site, which was destroyed by Vikings in 962 CE. A fourth structure was then built on the same site, and we’re sure you can’t guess what happened to it. It burned. 

Despite the unlucky nature of this site, the English continued to build the fifth and final(ish) landmark there, now known as Old St. Paul’s. There have been many renovations and improvements since the original structure in the 11th century, but the present-day dome is not something to miss out on. 

Catherine loves this dome because you can climb on it! There is an outer dome, a concealed dome for structural support, and an inner dome. At the apex of the outer dome is the infamous Golden Gallery, which allows visitors to see London from 280 feet off the ground. Catherine confirms it is an incredible sight. But her favorite part about this dome is located within the inner dome, 99 feet above the cathedral floor: The Whispering Gallery. A whisper from one side of the dome can be heard by visitors all the way on the other side. It’s a real must-experience, and a beautiful way to bond with the random tourist across the dome from you. 

#5. Pantheon in Rome

Catherine has also been to this dome, and is a Classics major, so the Pantheon receives a prominent but humble fifth place ranking. After all, it is one of the most imitated and influential buildings in all of history

There is much left to be discovered about this building. Originally, scholars fully believed that the Pantheon could be dated to Emperor Hadrian’s reign and was purposed as a temple to all the gods. However, all these once-certain facts are now being reevaluated as we question its origin, construction, and meaning all over again. We, the mere appreciators of domes, cannot pretend to be able to answer these looming questions, so instead we will focus on how pretty and amazing the dome is with no regard for its historical significance! 

First of all, the Pantheon sports the largest dome ever built out of masonry or unreinforced concrete. In order to build something of that size out of those materials, the Romans had to have been incredible engineers and architects. Unlike many of the domes we have previously evaluated, this one actually stayed intact! 

What we find most impressive about this dome, and this building in general, is its geometric precision and proportional harmony. A perfect sphere can fit within the Pantheon, completely touching on all sides at the top. The geometric perfection of the dome does not stop simply with its shape, but continues in its interior. There are five rows of 28 square sunken coffers, which is an incredibly difficult way to divide up a circle evenly. However, 28 was one of the four “perfect” numbers in antiquity, which means that the sum of the factors equals the number itself. This proportional masterpiece is the result of cultural beliefs that certain perfect numbers were mystical and expressed connection and harmony with the cosmos. 

What perhaps makes this building most famous, however, is the central oculus. This furthers the connection of the Pantheon with the divine, as circular sunbeams and moonbeams travel throughout the interior depending on the time of day. When Catherine visited at 9 AM, she recalls that the sunlight was barely visible as it streaked in and landed on the coffers. She wished she could have sat in the space all day and watched the light move across the floor. Lara wishes she could have been there at all. Maybe next time! 

#4. Hagia Sophia in Istanbul 

The Hagia Sophia was constructed when Istanbul… was Constantiople. 

After the first structure was destroyed during riots in 404 AD and the second structure burned down during the Nika revolt of 532 AD, Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the third and final version to be built as the Christian cathedral of the city—a feat that resulted in the world’s largest interior space at the time and is said to have changed the history of architecture altogether. Completed in 537 AD and designed by the Greek geometers Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, this dome consists of four arches and relies on a complex system of vaults and semi-domes. Although the original main structure still stands, the dome has faced some troubles in the past because of earthquakes and simple structural failures. 

The Hagia Sophia served as an Eastern Orthodox Church until the Ottoman conquest in 1453, when it was converted to a mosque. In 1935, after the secular Republic of Turkey was established, the building was transformed into a museum, and in 1985, the Hagia Sophia was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2020, however, a Turkish court annulled the site’s museum status and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in an extremely controversial decision, announced that the site would, once again, become a functioning mosque. The famous building continues to be open for free to visitors outside of prayer times. 

We simply cannot get over just how gorgeous the Hagia Sophia is, and we can’t even imagine having the opportunity to stare up into the gigantic marbled dome… which is why it is placed solidly at number four. 

#3. The Reichstag Dome in Berlin

Many of the domes we have ranked thus far have been fairly old, but no longer! The Reichstag Building was originally built between 1884 and 1894 during the Weimar Republic, but was heavily damaged during WWII. In 1994, an extensive rebuilding and renovation project was initiated, leaving us with the architectural masterpiece sitting in present-day Germany. 

The Reichstag Dome, unlike other domes on our list, is made almost entirely of glass and steel and is open to the public. There are two steel spiraling ramps encircling the interior of the dome which visitors can walk upon. This allows not only for a 360° view of Berlin outside, but also a complete view of the debating chamber, or Bundestag, of Germany’s parliament below. Talk about governmental transparency! 

Also unlike other domes on our list, this dome was created to be environmentally friendly and energy efficient! There is a mirrored cone in the middle of the dome, which reflects sunlight into the dome and into the chamber below. This considerably reduces carbon emissions by removing the need for artificial lighting. Additionally, the building employs renewable bio-fuel (refined vegetable oil) in a cogenerator to produce energy rather than burning fossil fuels. Some sources claim that these modifications have allowed the Reichstag Building to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 94%, and even allow the building to produce more energy than it burns, making it a “mini power station in the new government quarter.” 

We love this building for its futuristic and post-modern design, its environmental considerations, and for what its reconstruction means to Germany as a nation. There is definitely a beautiful symbolic rebirth happening in this building to make it a place for national equity and unity between the public and the government that serves them. 

#2. Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow 

When you think of big, over-the-top, colorful domes that look like they were dragged right out of Candy Land, you probably think of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia. Officially named the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, the structure is composed of a central church surrounded by eight chapels, with the four major edifices lining up with the points of a cardinal compass. Commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and constructed in only six years (1555-1561), the true identities of the Cathedral’s architects are unknown, although the work is commonly attributed to Barma and Postnik, and legend states that Ivan blinded the architects after completion so they could never create a similar (or better) work again. 

Located in Moscow’s Red Square, right beside the Kremlin, the building has served several purposes throughout its history, and its nine brightly-colored onion domes are said to resemble a bonfire rising into the sky… or Heavenly Jerusalem… you can choose. Originally an Orthodox church, the Soviets confiscated the building in 1928 and turned it into a museum. Although Stalin almost razed the whole thing in the 1930s, he eventually changed his mind, and in 1990, St. Basil’s became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, the museum is open to the public seven days a week. 

Although an absolutely stunning work of architecture… it’s a bit cheesy in our opinion. So, it’s at #2.

#1. Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

We fought about this one… but Lara won. 

The Santa Maria del Fiore obviously belongs in first place because, besides being the largest masonry vault in the world since its completion in 1436, it was one of the most incredible architectural feats of the 15th century, engineered by the ingenious Filippo Brunelleschi. Originally a goldsmith, Brunelleschi beat his long-time rival Lorenzo Ghiberti for the title of capomaestro (only one of the many dramatic occurrences in his fascinating life), with a plan that solved the seemingly-impossible erection of what was the world’s largest dome at the time, supported by the wealth and influence of Cosimo de Medici himself. Who made the model that won Brunelleschi the competition, you ask? Oh, just his good sculptor friend Donatello.

In a never-before accomplished feat of innovation, Brunelleschi worked around the city ban on buttresses and the nonexistence of viable scaffolding, designing a plan in which the dome, built in an octagonal shape, supported itself throughout construction without any wood reinforcements. The painting of the interior of the dome commenced 136 years after its construction and features a stunning cycle of frescoes depicting The Last Judgment. 

The dome is open to visitors every day with the purchase of a Brunelleschi Pass for 30 euros. Don’t worry, we’ve already hopped on a plane and we’re on our way. 

Honorable Mentions:

Pitbull’s Dome

You didn’t think we could forget Pitbull’s massive dome, did you?! We heavily debated ranking it in our number one spot, but Lara steadfastly refused, not understanding that even a team of architects and engineers could never replicate what Pitbull has going on in his dome. ¡Dale!

Astrodome in Houston, TX

The Astrodome is a big deal… we know. However, we simply can’t get over how ugly it is. Despite it being the world’s first multi-purpose, domed sports stadium, we do not agree that it’s the “eighth wonder of the world,” and it currently isn’t even home to a single sports team. However, Beyoncé has played the Astrodome, and for that, it at least deserves a mention. 

Hello! My name is Catherine (she/her) and I am a Classical Languages and Art History major at Connecticut College. I am also completing a Museum Studies Certificate Program here. I work as a curatorial and archival intern at the New London County Historical Society, and I love visiting museums and spending time around good (and bad) art.
Lara is a senior at Connecticut College, where she is pursuing a double major in environmental studies and economics with a minor in dance. Her interests include choreography, sustainability, the performing arts, and conservation.