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Domes through the ages

The Romans were the first people to construct large-scale masonry domes. The Emperor Hadrian built the Pantheon as a temple for all the Roman gods. It is a perfect dome, still standing today.

When Nero rebuilt his palace in Rome after the great fire of AD64, it included an octagonal hall with a domed roof.

With the Renaissance came a revival of interest in the styles of antiquity. The merchants of Florence drew up plans for a traditional Gothic cathedral in 1296, but by 1366 they had changed their minds and commissioned a domed building instead, constructed along classical lines. This started a fashion which culminated in the early 16th century with the rebuilding of the Basilica of St Peter in Rome. Michelangelo was involved in the design and decration of its great dome, and his work can still be seen.

The vogue for classically inspired churches took longer to reach Northern Europe. It was nearly 200 years later, in 1675, that Sir Christopher Wren designed a dome as the central feature of the new St Paul's Cathedral. Russian churches, influenced by Byzantium, also incorporated the dome. The Byzantine style fused with local traditions to produce the brightly painted, onion shaped domes which can be seen in the Kremlin in Moscow. This is the site of the Cathedral of St Basil, built by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his victory over the Tartars in 1547. It is said that the eight domes of the cathedral represent the eight turbanned Muslim chieftains whom he beheaded after his victory.

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