The biggest domes in the world are awe-inspiring feats of design, engineering and construction, and have been used for thousands of years. From the most iconic historic buildings in the world to today’s biggest and most technologically advanced superstructures, the competition to build the world’s largest dome never ends.
The construction of domes and dome structures has been seen since ancient times. In fact there doesn’t appear to be a single point of origin, and the shape and method of construction became common in almost all ancient cultures.
It’s believed the earliest known domes were made from the tusks, bones and skin of mammoths, and may date from at least 19,000 BC. Igloos, wigwams and ‘beehive huts’ made from blocks of sun-baked clay provide further evidence that the dome was developed independently all over the world.
The earliest domes we’d recognise today were built in ancient Mesopotamia, but it was Roman dome architecture that paved the way for today’s incredible domes, including the world’s biggest dome. Let’s find out what the Romans did for us as well as discovering the facts about the largest dome in the world.
For the purposes of this list of the largest domes, we’re focusing only on self-supporting structures, rather than dome-shaped constructions which rely on supports (such as the UK’s Millenium Dome).
The Domes of Rome
Roman dome architecture was based largely around practicality. The vision of Roman architects was to challenge the architectural norms by creating vast spaces, uninterrupted by the columns and interior load-bearing walls used by the ancient Greeks.
Indeed the concrete dome developed and perfected by the Romans was a remarkable leap forward in our understanding of physics and engineering. It has had a profound impact on the architectural style of much of western civilisation for two millennia, and continues to do so.
In fact from the fourth century BC until the Royal Albert Hall was built in London in 1871, Roman dome architecture was responsible for four successive records holders for the title of largest dome in the world –
- Temple of Mercury | Baiae, Italy | Diameter 21.5 metres
- Baths of Agrippa | Rome, Italy | Diameter 25 metres
- Baths of Trajan | Rome, Italy | Diameter 30 metres
- Pantheon | Rome, Italy | Diameter 43.4 metres
One of ancient Rome’s best-preserved buildings, the world-famous Pantheon has remained, for two thousand years, the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and became the model for western dome construction.
We’ll stay within Italy for our first port of call and then we’ll go further afield and find the world’s biggest dome.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Location: Vatican City | Completed: 1626 | Diameter: 42 metres
It may not be the biggest dome in the world but it’s one of the most famous. St. Peter’s is the tallest dome in the world at 136.5 metres and was principally designed by Donato Brumante and Michelangelo. The basilica is one of the world’s great examples of Renaissance architecture and has been described as ‘the greatest of all churches of Christendom.’
West Baden Springs Hotel
Location: Indiana, USA | Opened: 1902 | Diameter: 61 metres
Designed by American architect Harrison Albright, the historic hotel is part of a large hotel and entertainment complex known as the French Lick Resort, named for the French traders who populated the area in the nineteenth century. From 1902 until 1913, it was the world’s largest dome. When the hotel opened, it was advertised as ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World.’
Belgrade Fair - Hall 1
Location: Belgrade, Serbia | Opened: 1957 | Diameter: 109 metres
The world’s largest prestressed concrete dome, Belgrade Fair Hall 1 is also the largest dome in Europe. In fact between 1957 and 1965 it was the largest dome in the world. Located on the right bank of the Sava River, Belgrade Fair is a huge complex of exhibition halls, and is one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks.
Reconac Dome Oita
Location: Ōita, Japan | Opened: 2001 | Diameter: 274 metres
Originally called the Oita Stadium, the 40,000 capacity football stadium – home to the J-League side Oita Trinita – was the world’s largest dome from 2001 until 2009. It was designed by world-famous architect Kisho Kurokawa and features a clever retractable roof that, when closed, still allows sunlight in thus negating the need for the lights to be on.
Location: Texas, USA | Opened: 2009 | Diameter: 275 metres
Home to the Dallas Cowboys American Football team, the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas has a maximum capacity of 105,000 and is the second largest dome in the world. The retractable roof has an area of 61,400 square metres and uses over 14,000 tonnes of structural steel. It can open and close in just twelve minutes. The sensational stadium has been chosen as one of eleven host venues for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Singapore National Stadium
Location: Kallang, Singapore | Opened: 2014 | Diameter: 310 metres
The world’s biggest dome is also the world’s largest retractable roof. It sits atop the 55,000-seat National Stadium – which plays host to football, rugby, cricket and athletics as well as music concerts. The roof has an area of 75,000 square metres and is 83 metres high. This astonishing dome is constructed from steel and a water-resistant polymer, designed to reflect sunlight.
The Biggest Domes on the Planet
So there we have it, the world’s biggest domes. Unquestionably sensational structures but there are a few that didn’t make the list that deserve special mention for their global historical importance, including the 29 metre diameter United States Capitol in Washington DC; the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London at 31 metres; Hagia Sofia Grand Mosque in Istanbul with a diameter of 31.87 metres and the Taj Mahal in India at 31.9 metres.