Look Up and Tell Us About the Most Incredible Decorated Ceilings!

Art and curiosity are everywhere, and with so many incredible sights right in front of our eyes, it’s easy to forget that there are often wild and wonderful ceilings hanging just over our heads. From superstar ceilings like the one at the Sistine Chapel to lesser known gems such as the wall-to-wall-disco-ball mirroring of the Shah Cheragh mosque in Iran, all across the globe, there are overhead installations that are as arresting and unforgettable anything at eye-level. And they aren’t all found in places of worship, although churches are a great place to find incredible ceilings. Now tell us about the most insane ceilings you’ve ever encountered on your travels.

(Image: SBA73/CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the comments below, tell us about the most artful, intricate, beautiful, and unforgettable ceilings you’ve ever seen. Tell us where it’s located, what makes it special, and why you love it! If you have any images of the amazing ceilings, share those with us too! Your submission might be included in an upcoming round-up article on Atlas Obscura. Let’s remind ourselves why we should never forget to look up!

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In the centre of Muscat Basar, Oman.

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I went to the Basilica of Santa Maria de la Victoria in Málaga and looking straight on at the altar, you can’t immediately tell that there’s a room behind it that you’re actually looking into. Then there are signs that direct you to continue upstairs to check it out. The all white stucco photo is the ceiling en route to the altar room, and the other photo is the ceiling of the room that just blew me away.

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I was quite literally walking around Vienna looking for a place to pee. I went into the Austrian Academy of Sciences and found this awesome ceiling in their main meeting hall.

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I recently visited Hampton Court specifically to see the wonderful carpentry work of the hammerbeam roof of King Henry VIII’s Great Hall.
It was designed to impress, and it still does.

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In the spirit of the grand, sacred painted cathedral ceilings offered here, I submit one from the Salvador Dalí Teatre-Museo in Figueres, Spain (Catalonia), in which Dalí has shown himself, and his beloved wife and muse Gala, from the soles up, holding up a portal to heaven … as Dalí imagined it. My favorite aspect is the way he, in an uncharacteristic gesture of modesty, tucked Gala’s dress close to her legs to as not to give a view TOO inspiring, and the drawers emanating from his own midsection.

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The garden within the Forbidden City in Beijing has a bunch of small pavilions. The ceilings are awesome. The only picture I got of this one was too fuzzy, so here’s one I found on the net.

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The beautiful ceiling of Aachen Cathedral

A beautiful blue to which my phone Camera could not do justice

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Castles can be a brilliant source of a beautiful ceiling as well These examples are from the Chapel at Hohenzollern and the vaulting at Sigmaringen

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Basilica di Sant’ Andrea delle Valle, Rome, Italy

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Trompe l’oeil fresco in the Chiesa di Sant’ Ignazio di Loyola, Rome, Italy. (One of my favorite churches)

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Royal Alcázar of Seville, Spain

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The fan vaulting at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and the elliptical dome of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome are two of my favorites, among many. There are so many good gothic and renaissance examples, I’m challenging myself (and anyone else curious) for good modern examples also.

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The US Capitol rotunda in Washington, DC. Amazing how it makes George Washington appear god-like! I love the colors and the detail!

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Stumbling upon the Strahov Library in Prague was a beautiful surprise. Such a hidden gem. And the sweet docents are an added bonus <3.

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The oldest part of Winchester Cathedral in England. Love the geometrics. Amazing that it is still in such good shape, given the age.

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Oh, yeah. Los Angeles Central Library is pretty gorgeous.

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Wow, thanks Eric, for kicking off another awesome thread!

I love this topic in particular, because “looking up” has felt like a moral imperative ever since I read, a young child, The Phantom Tollbooth. There’s a story in there about two cities, one in which Milo finds himself, that’s ugly and falling apart, and another city that’s off in the distance and magnificent. Milo learns the city he’s in became dirty because it’s inhabitants realized they could get to where they were going faster if they looked down at their feet while they walked. So everyone did, and they never noticed all the decay. The gleaming city in the distance was the city they thought they were really in…

So looking up is important, and fun!

Here are some of my favorite rewards for having looked up:

The ceiling of the I.M. Pei’s East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

And the lovely pattern of sunlight it casts on the floor, which is mirrored again in shadows of the coffered first floor ceiling.

Inspired, no doubt, by Louis Kahn’s ceilings for the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut.
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(Detail photo by Liz Waytkus via Flickr)

And possibly also by the complex vaults of the lofty Kings College Chapel which I got to see at Cambridge University in England.

And… also, possibly inspired by… Frank Lloyd Wright’s ceilings for the Johnson Wax headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. (Pictured here: the lobby entrance. Fun fact: to celebrate the revolutionary chemistry which was being researched there, the glass rods in the ceiling are meant to evoke, and are actually made from the same glass as, test tubes!)

And at that same place, another stunning ceiling I’ve visited is the incredible lilypad forest of the Johnson Wax main administration room.


Some less transparent but nonetheless magnificent ceilings I’ve seen and loved include:

Rockwell Kent’s 1930’s ceiling murals at the jewel box Cape Cinema in Dennis, Mass., on Cape Cod.

And all the way at the other end of the scale, the ceiling of one of the largest theaters in the world, at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

And in New York, one of my favorite ceilings from anywhere in the world, which comes complete with illuminated stars (!), is the massive barrel vault floating over Grand Central Terminal.

Which (fun fact!) has a hidden secret: when the restorers finished the years-long work which revealed the vivid color of the original painting, they left a tiny square un-restored, showing how thickly dark it had become from the previous century of cigarette and cigar smoke of commuting New Yorkers.

Lastly, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, the newest grand ceiling is at Santiago Calatrava’sOculus” at the World Trade Center. I’ve been there many, many times, but didn’t know until right now when I saw it on the web… The glass arc of the ceiling’s pinnacle opens up every year on September 11th, and the sun traces a beam of light across the length of the glowing chamber.

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Both the train station and theater in Groningen (NL) have incredible ceilings. The one in the train station is remarkable since it’s painted paper mache, the one in the theater is colorful and a great contrast with the red velvet and gold decor below

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Definitely seconding Chieza Sant’Inazio. The ceiling by Jesuit Bro. Andrea Pozzo opens up and invites the viewer to gaze into the heavens. Figures representing the four corners of the world beckon to global missionary reach of the Jesuit order. Above the transept, Pozzo created a false dome, tricking the viewer as they approach.

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