41 magnificent top ceilings from around the world

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I once heard someone say that architecture is the art of covering four walls with a roof and that the entire structure depends on the technique and skills of the architects, finding the best solution to hold it up.

Another of the curious things that the architects say, is that buildings tend not to fall, though that's a different story.

Ceiling Palau Musica Catalana

The fact is that I have the habit of looking up, to pay attention to how certain iconic constructions are crowned. It is up there where we also find authentic jewels of design such as domes, vaults, stars, and other geometric shapes, even holes.

So here is a set of photographs taken from below straight up, with minimal perspective if possible, through very famous buildings to less well known, spanning three continents and over two thousand years of history:

Temple Church
Round Temple Church in London, built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar.

The very first image on the top is the Catalan art nouveau masterpiece Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona.
Image by Nick Garrod and previous one by Miguel Mendez

York Minster
The radiant circular chapter house of York Minster, in England.

This image has been made using the High Dynamic Range imaging technique (HDR), like many others in this article.
Image by Alex Brown

Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral: the intricate geometrical pattern of the Lady Chapel, finished in 1326.
Image by Lawrence OP

Ceiling Sagrada Familia
A dark star, or the ceiling of the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona.

Amazing how Gaudí created a structure that seems an ultra-modern building of organic architecture. However, it was designed like a hundred years ago.
Image by Greg Bailey

Ceiling Studley Royal
Saint Mary's Church, a World Heritage site included in Studley Royal Park, England.

This masterpiece of Victorian Gothic architecture was completed in 1871, just a few years before the construction of Sagrada Família had commenced. I reckon that this picture is a masterpiece too.
Image by Nick Garrod

Quattro Fontane
I am not a big fan of the overelaborate and golden Baroque ornaments, but I do appreciate the elegant shapes of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome.
Image by Lawrence OP

Sistine Chapel Ceiling
This set could not be completed without one of the most iconic ceilings of history, the Sistine Chapel, in Rome.
Image by Fr Lawrence Lew

Also in Rome stands the Pantheon, a survivor of the history (126 AD), and one of the most fascinating structures ever built.
Image by Phil Oye

Maison Carrée
As well representative from the legacy of the ancient world, it is the Maison Carrée (squared house) in Nîmes, France.
Image by Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Notre-Dame de la Garde
Not far away in space, but in centuries, is the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, in Marseille, with its Neo-Byzantine and arabesque decorations.
Image by Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Hagia Sophia dome inside
The interior of Hagia Sophia is one of the most awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping ancient buildings in the world.

Built by the Byzantines in the 6th century, the temple is today the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque of Istanbul, Turkey.
Imagen Amitd

The Baptistery of St. John in Florence
The 13th-century Byzantine-style ceiling mosaic of the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, Italy.

Ceiling Ely
This spectacular octagonal lantern over the crossing of the Ely Cathedral was built after the collapse of the old tower and finished by 1340.
Image by Andrew Sharpe

King's College Chapel
A few miles south from Ely rises the King's College Chapel, in Cambridge.

In this photography, the characteristic fan vault is inflamed with light, using the HDR technique.
Image by John Kroll

San Francisco City Hall
Jumping the Pond we get to San Francisco City Hall, reconstructed after the major 1906 Earthquake.
Image by Pathos Photos

Church of San Francisco in the Chiloé Archipelago in Chile.

The churches of Chiloé are made entirely in timber and are registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Image by Tim Snell

Burgos Cathedral
This double white star belongs to the Burgos Cathedral, Spain.

Its audacious design was undertaken after that the not less audacious previous dome collapsed, one night of 1539.
Image by Lawrence OP

Segovia Cathedral ceiling
Vanishing point in Segovia Cathedral, Spain.
Image by Lawrence OP

Alhambra dome
Without moving from Spain, we change civilization, visiting the splendor of the Moorish palace of the Alhambra, and this stalactite ceiling decoration.
Image by Sean Wallis

Alcazar of Seville
This fantastic vault, dating 1427, represents the universe, although it rather looks like a burning sun. Alcázar of Seville, Spain.
Image by Paco Vila

Bazaar of Yazd
Marvelous dome in the Bazaar of Yazd, Iran. Not bad for a shopping center.
Image by dynamosquito

Yazd dome
A blue sapphire dome also found in Yazd, Iran.
Image by Golisnow

Hafez Shiraz
Ceiling from the 14th-century Persian poet Hafez's tomb in Shiraz, Iran.
Image by dynamosquito

Shah Cheragh Shiraz
The kaleidoscopic ceiling in the Shah Cheragh shrine also in Shiraz, Iran.
Image by dynamosquito

Ali Qapu palace Esfahan dome
Inside the 16th-century Ali Qapu palace in Esfahan. Yep, we are still in Iran.

Madrasa Tilya Kori
Ceiling of the Tilla-Kari Madrasa, built between 1619 and 1636 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Image courtesy of Prashant Ram

Taj Mahal ceiling
Going further towards the Asiatic east, here comes a famous building: the Taj Mahal, India.
Image by Nick Woodford

The propulsion engine of a galactic spacecraft from the back? The Ranakpur Jain Temple, India.
Image by Bradnwhs

Ignition! The dome of the Akshardham temple in Delhi, India.

Contrary to what might appear to be, this is one of the newest structures in this list: it was opened in 2005.
Image by Deepak Gupta

Saint Louis church Seville
Who would say that the Saint Louis baroque church in Seville (Spain), would fit into the subcategory of rocked-looking domes?
Image by Bruno Girin

Temple of Heaven Beijing
We are now in China, looking up into the Temple of Heaven, the symbol of Beijing where the Mulan house is located.
Image by Skiena

Forbidden City
Nearby, also in Beijing, is the legendary Forbidden City, the former home of the emperors.
Image by Joris Machielse

Summer Palace
These are the colors of the Summer Palace, once more in Beijing.
Image by Tom Wachtel

A mandala representing the universe among its many meanings in the Boudhanath Temple near the Boudhanath Great Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Image by Tiago Pereira

Lungshan Temple
A colorful dragon at the top of the Lungshan Temple, in Lukang, where are located some of the most spectacular temples of Taiwan.
Image by Timogan

below Eiffel Tower
We are back in Europe, to look under the skirt of the Eiffel Tower, from where you can see the Emily in Paris house.
Image by FrançoisFromFrance

Arc de Triomphe
Can-can dancing under the Arc de Triomphe, another Parisian icon.
Image by Jeff Cooney

Ceiling Gaudí
In Barcelona you can fall under the spell of this magnetic modernist whirlpool from Casa Batlló.
Image by Cabbit

Guggenheim Ceiling
A New Yorker avant-garde touch, provided by the hall of the Guggenheim Museum.

This staircase has nothing to do with the Joker stairs location.
Image by Mr. Benn

Guinness Storehouse
And why not end the party inside a giant barrel in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland?
Image by Rob Shaw

For further information, we recommend the splendid book including 120 full-color photographs Visions of Heaven: The Dome in European Architecture. From a review: "Photographer David Stephenson has traveled throughout Europe [...] and beyond, intent on capturing the magnificence of the domes that crown the cathedrals, palaces, mosques, synagogues and other imposing architectural wonders of the world."

There is also available the volume from the same author, more focused on the Middle Ages Heavenly Vaults: From Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture.

Finally don't miss out on the story of Brunelleschi's Dome is a "fresh, original, and illuminating" read detailed with precise illustrations about the Renaissance genius who reinvented architecture.

However, we don't know any good books comprising Islamic or Asian architecture from this point of view. Can you help us find some more, please?

  1. Fantastic!!!! and Sistine Chapel, in Rome - that was what I expected to find the best in the history of the ceiling on your post, you made an excellent choice. Looking at it is almost hypnotic in its richness and variety of architectural themes roofs ... But what is the ceiling, which is a symbol and a message for us humans? Is this a privilege for many to have a roof over our head?

  2. Thanks Mahhenta, I love your comment!-)

  3. Really great works of 'true'art thanx for sharing.e

  4. They are all stunning. I liked a lot le Arch de Triunph, it bring me nice memoires, la Tour Eifel aussi;Ce tout merveilles.

  5. Thanks very much for putting this collection together. Just beautiful. Thanks for sharing..

  6. One of your best, Ra. Unbelievable! I have only seen 2 of them:(


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