Roman Domes / Best of 2015

The ancient Roman Pantheon, Michelangelo’s dome in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Borromini’s San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane — these are a few of my favorite photography subjects in 2015. Walking around Rome last August, I enjoyed the chance to examine how different architects and engineers imagined and then constructed the same great architectural achievement — the Dome.

Today as I look back on these photos, I can reflect on the symbolism of their shape: beginning with the circle, which has no beginning and no end, with a three dimensional shape that draws the eye skyward and a window in the center to give the eye a focal point and provide natural light.

While the Pantheon was the first major dome ever constructed and the model for every major dome that followed, each dome is uniquely constructed and styled. The Pantheon’s large open oculus (eye) welcomes a beam of sunlight and heavy rain at other times. While it is now used as a Roman Catholic church, a burial place for Italy’s founders and the artist Raphael, and at times a concert hall, it did not begin that way. I took a panoramic photo with my iPhone 6 that shows the view from the altar to the open oculus.

Ancient Pantheon now used as a Catholic Church and a concert venue.
Ancient Pantheon now used as a Catholic Church and a concert venue.

The giant scale of St. Peter’s dome is one its first impressions. How will I capture how immense it really is? Here is another iPhone shot from the base of the dome, looking down at the people below.

From the base of St. Peter's Dome.
From the base of St. Peter’s Dome.

From the marble floor below, looking up, I braced my camera (no tripods allowed) and shot the painted inside of the St. Peter’s Dome. Nikon D800 this time!

Exquisite interior of St. Peter's Dome.
Exquisite interior of St. Peter’s Dome.

Then, go ahead and climb it! I lost count of how many steps it is within the inner and outer shell to the cupola, where you can look out over Rome from its highest point. Stick your camera lens through the safety fence to shoot a horizontal panorama.

Pano with Nikon D800, merging 6 images.
Pano with Nikon D800, merging 6 images.

A lesser known church among the hundreds in Rome is San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane. You might easily walk past its relatively unremarkable facade right on top of a busy street. But once you enter the small church and look up, you will fall in love with the originality of the oval dome — all in white and beautifully sunlit with perfect symmetry and sculptural detail.

San Carlino, a Baroque gem.
San Carlino, a Baroque gem.

If you liked this Baroque gem, you should also visit the small church and dome by Borromini’s rival Gianlorenzo Bernini in the same block: San Andrea al Quirinale. Or San Ivo della Sapienza. Share your own favorites, and if you want to read a cool book about domes, check out Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King. I read this book after I got home, and it really turned me into a dome freak!

Like what you see? Cathy Kelly has photographed churches and temples in many countries around the world. If you are looking for a print or image license for a location she may have captured, please email Cathy at

More Italy travels to come!