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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.

Domes of Rome
(the domes of S. Carlo al Corso and of St. Peter's at sunset)

The skyline of Rome is characterized by a large number of domes. The Ancient Romans made use of vaults especially for covering the halls of their baths. The vault of the Calidarium of Caracalla's Baths was supported by four gigantic pillars: it was studied in depth in the XVth century by the humanist architects as it provided a model for vaults (of churches) to be built at the crossing of the nave with the transept. Diocletian's Baths had several round buildings covered by vaults, one of which still exists (San Bernardo alle Terme). The temple of Ercole Callaico was another model of vault studied in the XVth century. The most celebrated Roman dome was however the Pantheon, the design of which was echoed in many early Renaissance buildings, in particular by Antonio Palladio.

Pantheon and S. Teodoro

The study and the actual building of various forms of domes became quite intense in the first half of the XVth century in northern Italy and in Tuscany, but not in Rome, where the authority of the Pope was challenged by the local factions. The first dome built in Rome after many centuries (San Teodoro) was designed in 1453 by Bernardo Rossellino.

S. Maria del Popolo and S. Maria della Pace

Sixtus IV (1471-84) was the first pope who embarked on a large program of public works. Santa Maria del Popolo was built during his pontificate by the association of the Lombards in Rome and its dome, most likely designed by Andrea Bregno, takes after models of Lombardy (the picture shows also the dome of Cappella Cybo built by Carlo Fontana in 1687). Santa Maria della Pace was initiated under Sixtus IV, but the dome was built in the XVIth century between 1520 and 1525 and it shows the three main elements of a dome: the drum, the vault and the lantern. At this time Rome already had one of the finest domes, a model for all the architects, the Temple built by Donato Bramante in 1502 in San Pietro in Montorio.

S. Maria di Loreto and SS. Nome di Maria

The building of S. Maria di Loreto took place over a 60 year span. It was originally designed by Donato Bramante in 1507, but very little was built for many years. In 1534 Antonio da Sangallo the Younger completed the lower, cube-shaped part, which was covered by a temporary roof. The dome was designed in 1573 by Jacopo del Duca, a scholar of Michelangelo, who designed also the little bell tower. The elaborated lantern inspired many Baroque architects including Francesco Borromini. In the XVIIIth century a church, SS. Nome di Maria, was built next to S. Maria di Loreto and its architect, Antoine Dérizet, designed a dome very similar to that of S. Maria di Loreto, thus creating another couple of domes (other couples existing at the time were: Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto (in the background of this page); the two domes of Santa Maria Maggiore; Sant'Andrea della Valle and San Carlo ai Catinari (see below).

Madonna dei Monti and il Gesù

The greatest achievement of Giacomo della Porta is with no doubt the completion of St Peter's dome in 1590. Prior to that Giacomo della Porta had designed the domes of Madonna dei Monti and of Chiesa del Gesù. Both churches have a Latin cross shape and the domes can only be seen by moving to the side of the church or from higher ground (many pictures in this page were taken from the terraces of the Monument to Victor Emmanuel).

S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, S. Andrea della Valle and S. Carlo ai Catinari

In the early XVIIth century the vertical development of the domes was increased in an attempt to improve their visibility. The dome of S. Giovanni dei Fiorentini, by Carlo Maderno (1614) ended up by being called Confetto succhiato (sucked comfit) because of its shape. Carlo Maderno also designed the second largest dome of modern Rome, that of S. Andrea della Valle (1622). The size and the shape of this dome are very similar to that of S. Carlo ai Catinari designed in 1620 by the monk Rosato Rosati. Because the two churches are not so far away, their domes form another couple (and add to the feminine side of the Roman skyline).

SS. Luca e Martina and S. Carlo al Corso

The only dome designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Rome was the elliptical dome of Sant'Andrea dei Gesuiti al Quirinale. The domes designed by Francesco Borromini in San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza and Sant'Andrea delle Fratte all departed from the generally accepted dome structure. Pietro da Cortona who was both a painter and an architect designed two more traditional domes: SS. Luca e Martina in 1644 and S. Carlo al Corso in 1668. The two lanterns in particular are very similar.

S. Agnese in Agone

Francesco Borromini initially designed the dome of S. Agnese in Agone, but Carlo Rainaldi who took over from him in 1657 reduced by one fifth the height of the vault. Notwithstanding this the vertical drive of the dome is such that S. Agnese with its two high bell towers can be considered the final design of the Baroque model of church.


The table contains a list of historical churches with a dome:

Name(key)Location - (Rione)Notes
Chiesa del Bambin Gesù (o di San Bernardo ai Monti)I-MontiHardly visible from the street
Chiesa del GesùIX-PignaShown above
Chiesa della MaddalenaIII-ColonnaNot visible from the street
Chiesa della Madonna dei MontiI-MontiShown above
Santuario alla Madonna dell'ArchettoII-TreviNot visible from the street
Chiesa del Nome di MariaI-MontiShown above
Chiesa Nuova (S. Maria di Vallicella)VI-ParioneThe dome is visible in the View
Chiesa di San Bernardo alle TermeI-Monti-
Chiesa di San Carlo ai CatinariVIII-Sant'EustachioShown above
Chiesa di San Carlo al CorsoIV-Campo MarzioShown above
Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro FontaneI-Monti-
Chiesa di San Giacomo in Augusta (o degli Incurabili)IV-Campo MarzioHardly visible from the street
Chiesa di San Giovanni dei FiorentiniV-PonteShown above
Chiesa di San Giovanni della MalvaXIII-TrastevereAn 1846 addition
Chiesa di San Giovanni in Fonte (Battistero Lateranense)I-Monti-
Chiesa di San Giovanni in OleoX-Campitelli-
Chiesa di San Nicola da TolentinoII-TreviHardly visible from the street
Chiesa di San Nicola dei LorenesiVI-ParioneNot visible from the street
Chiesa di San Paolo alla RegolaVII-RegolaHardly visible from the street
Chiesa di San Patrizio (e Isidoro)III-ColonnaHardly visible from the street
Tempietto di San Pietro in MontorioXIII-Trastevere-
Chiesa di San Pietro in VaticanoXIV-Borgo-
Chiesa di San RoccoIV-Campo Marzio-
Chiesa di San Salvatore in LauroV-PonteThe dome is visible from Castel Sant'Angelo
Chiesa di San Silvestro al QuirinaleII-Trevi-
Chiesa di Santa CostanzaN.A.-
Chiesa di Santa DoroteaXIII-TrastevereThe dome is visible in the View
Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in AgoneVI-ParioneShown above
Chiesa di Sant'AgostinoVI-ParioneCovered by an ordinary roof
Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Martiri (o della Rotonda)VIII-Sant'EustachioThe Pantheon (shown above)
Chiesa di Santa Maria dei MiracoliIV-Campo Marzio-
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Concezione a Campo MarzioIV-Campo Marzio-
Chiesa di Santa Maria della PaceV-PonteShown above
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Quercia (o dei Macellari)VII-RegolaNot visible from the street
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Rotonda (o dei Martiri)VIII-Sant'EustachioThe Pantheon (shown above)
Chiesa di Santa Maria della ScalaXIII-TrastevereCovered by an ordinary roof
Chiesa di Santa Maria della VittoriaII-Trevi-
Chiesa di Santa Maria dell'Orazione e MorteVII-Regola-
Chiesa di Santa Maria del PiantoVII-Regola-
Chiesa di Santa Maria del PopoloIV-Campo Marzio-
Chiesa di Santa Maria del RosarioN.A.-
Chiesa di Santa Maria di LoretoI-MontiShown above
Chiesa di Santa Maria in AquiroIII-ColonnaNot visible from the street
Chiesa di Santa Maria in CampitelliX-Campitelli-
Chiesa di Santa Maria in MontesantoIV-Campo Marzio-
Chiesa di Santa Maria in TraspontinaXIV-BorgoHardly visible from the street
Chiesa di Santa Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova)VI-ParioneThe dome is visible in the View
Chiesa di Santa Maria MaggioreI-Monti-
Chiesa di Santa Maria Scala CoeliN.A.-
Chiesa di Sant'Ambrogio della MassimaXI-Sant'AngeloNot visible from the street
Chiesa di Sant'Andrea dei Gesuiti al QuirinaleI-Monti-
Chiesa di Sant'Andrea della ValleVIII-Sant'EustachioShown above
Chiesa di Sant'Andrea delle FratteIII-Colonna-
Tempio di Sant'Andrea sulla Via FlaminiaN.A.-
Chiesa di Sant'Anna dei PalafrenieriXIV-Borgo-
Chiesa di Sant'Antonio de' PortoghesiIV-Campo MarzioShown below
Chiesa di Sant'ApollinareVI-ParioneNot visible from the street
Chiesa di Santa PudenzianaI-MontiShown below
Chiesa di Sant'Eligio degli OreficiVII-Regola-
Chiesa di San TeodoroX-CampitelliShown above
Chiesa dei Santi Celso e GiulianoV-PonteCovered by an ordinary roof
Chiesa dei Santi Claudio e Andrea dei BorgognoniII-Trevi-
Chiesa dei Santi Giovanni e PaoloX-CampitelliThe dome covers a chapel
Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di LoyolaIX-PignaPainted dome in the interior
Chiesa dei Santi Luca e MartinaX-CampitelliShown above
Chiesa di Sant'Isidoro (e Patrizio)III-ColonnaHardly visible from the street
Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Marcellino a Via MerulanaI-Monti-
Chiesa di Sant'Ivo alla SapienzaVIII-Sant'Eustachio-
Chiesa di Sant'OmobonoX-CampitelliShown below
Chiesa di Santo Stefano RotondoI-Monti-
Chiesa della Trinità degli SpagnoliIV-Campo MarzioNot visible from the street
Chiesa della Trinità dei PellegriniVII-RegolaThe dome is visible in the View

a) S. Antonio dei Portoghesi; b) S. Omobono; c) S. Pudenziana