Look up…it’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s…
One of the most incredible ceilings you’ll ever see.
In our prosaic world of utilitarian homes and drop-tile office ceilings, it can be hard to imagine a reason for looking up when you’re indoors.
But some buildings have a more celebrated nature when it comes to their inner space, and part of that exuberance is the ceiling.
Let’s take a look at some of the most incredible ceilings around the world. Here they are, in no particular order of awesomeness:
- Bellagio Lobby, Las Vegas
- The Sistine Chapel, Rome
- The Imperial Vault of Heaven, China
- King’s College Chapel, England
- Hagia Sophia, Turkey
- Shah Mosque, Iran
- Qalat Al-Hamra, Grananda, Spain
- Grand Central Station, New York
- Pantheon, Rome
- St. Stephens, Austria
Bellagio Lobby, Las Vegas
If you’re staying at the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, you’ll be very impressed by its beautiful lake, which features a fountain and light show every half hour. But when you enter the hotel lobby to check in, looking up might leave you breathless—as it might the other 15,000 to 20,000 people who come to gander at the colorful glass flowers created by artist Dale Chihuly. Fiori di Como is the name given to this stunning $10 million dollar work of art of 2,000 glass blossoms, which is frequently listed as one of Las Vegas’s star attractions.
The Sistine Chapel, Rome
This quintessential masterpiece ceiling is made famous by the fresco of biblical scenes completed by Renaissance master Michaelangelo. He spent a painstaking four years on scaffolding below the rounded barrel vault of the Pope’s personal chapel, creating one of the greatest masterpieces in Western art. Dozens of figures adorn the ceiling, but the most famous scene, the Creation of Adam, is canonical in Western art—fewer images are as popular as that of the first man receiving a Divine touch. Michaelangelo also painted The Last Judgement on the far wall; other artistic contributors in the chapel include Botticelli, Perugino, and Ghirlandaio.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven, China
This rounded temple sits in the complex of The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. Its iconic buildings are recognized around the world as stunning examples of ancient Chinese Architecture, but few people are familiar with the brilliant interior of the buildings. In particular, the Imperial Vault contains within a beautiful coffered ceiling of bluish green. In the center, a gilded dragon coils around a pearl, surrounded by 360 other dragons (corresponding to days in the lunar year). The other halls in the complex, like the opposite and more recognized Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, also have stunning ceilings.
King’s College Chapel, England
This chapel at Cambridge University is regarded as one of the world’s finest examples of the Perpendicular Gothic style that was unique to England in the late Middle Ages. This particular Gothic sub-style emphasises the vertical nature of the gothic, taking it to new heights (literally). The chapel is noted for its tall glass windows and a painting by Dutch master Peter Paul Rubens. But the most memorable feature of this particular chapel is the ceiling, which contains the world’s largest fan vault spreading out over the stone ceiling, built between 1512 and 1515 during the reign of Henry VIII.
Hagia Sophia, Turkey
This museum in Istanbul was once a mosque, and before that, the greatest church in the Byzantine Empire. Built by the Emperor Justinian, it is remarkable for its enormous dome, the largest built since the Roman Pantheon a few hundred years before. Hagia Sophia—its name meaning Holy Wisdom—remained the largest cathedral in the Western World until the Cathedral of Seville surpassed it in 1520. Inside, you cannot help but marvel at the enormous space created by nested masonry domes that climb upward to a heavenly rotunda.Russian emissaries remarked “we knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth.”
Shah Mosque, Iran
This Isfahan mosque is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Persian architecture, and elicits a stirring sense of beauty from its seven-colored mosaics and calligraphy. Islamic law forbids the depiction of human forms in art and architecture, so mosque architecture relies heavily on geometric patterns and textures for decoration, as can be seen in the dome of this mosque, which is meant to create a sense of heavenly awe. The mosque was built on the orders of Shah Abbas in 1598, when he moved his capital to Isfahan. Today, Isfahan is famous for its Persian architecture and blue-tiled buildings.
Qalat Al-Hamra, Grananda, Spain
Parts of Spain were once ruled by the Moors—Muslims from Africa, and they left behind a rich legacy of art and architecture. One such treasure is the mountaintop palace of the Alhambra, which is richly decorated throughout. Though it is perhaps most famous for its courtyard with the twelve-lion fountain, the Alhambra also has some photographic ceilings, including the star-shaped honeycomb ceiling of the Hall of the Abencerrajes, which is said to have 5,000 pockets done in the Moorish Style. Legend has it a massacre occurred at a feast under this incredible ceiling, toward the end of Moorish rule.
Grand Central Station, New York
If you’re rushing to catch a train or grab a bite at the large food court, you may not bother to look up. But you would be missing an incredible marvel of a ceiling, which covers one of the world’s top ten most visited tourist attractions: The Main Concourse is a truly vast room meant as a meeting place for passengers, with a barrel-vaulted ceiling that depicts constellations. Ten globe-shaped chandeliers hang from the ceiling in the columned aisles around the grand room, the size of which is meant to evoke a sense of grandeur related to the station’s name.
The Pantheon is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and a marvel of Roman engineering and architecture. A former pagan temple commissioned by the emperor Hadrian, it later became a church, which helped it to remain one of the best-preserved pieces of ancient architecture in Rome, and even the world. The triangular pediment upheld by columns which constitutes the street facade, and the rounded inner chamber, or cella, behind it, became much copied by later architects in the Renaissance period and beyond, who turned to the Pantheon for inspiration in their search for forms that evoked serenity and perfection.
St. Stephens, Austria
This incredible cathedral in Passau is a sublime example of Baroque architecture, a style that celebrated pomp with dynamic ornamentation. The church contains a series of domes that are painted with heavenly scenes, but the real drama is achieved by their elongated form, the long axis of which is perpendicular to the axis of the church, creating a sense of tension that is only heightened by the dramatic carvings that frame the domes and spill down the columns. One is left in awe at the incredibly merging of art and structure, which also houses one of the world’s largest organs.