These iconic ceilings will have you looking up.
In 2002 Queen Paola commissioned Jan Fabre, an edgy Antwerp artist, to transform the ceiling of the Royal Palace’s Hall of Mirrors. The shimmering result: a swirling galaxy of iridescent green patterns made from the discarded wing cases of a million-plus Thai jewel beetles.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DIRK PAUWELS, ANGELOS
Thanks-Giving Square, designed by Phillip Johnson, debuted in downtown’s City Center District in 1976. Inside a 90-foot-tall marble chapel, a glowing series of stained-glass windows spirals up to the tower’s dome.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WILLIAM A. BAKE, CORBIS
The faces of hundreds of winged angels peer down from the beamed ceiling of the plain brick Debre Berhan Selassie church. (No two portraits are alike.) The church survived an 1888 raid; legend claims a bee swarm and the archangel Michael scared off the dervishes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARK DAFFEY, LONELY PLANET IMAGES
At the Sagrada Família basilica— started in 1882—a forest-like ceiling reveals Gaudí’s vision of a dense palm grove. Inclined columns bow to support a vault of glass “leaves”; sunburst-like skylights brighten the nave.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSE FUSTE RAGA, CORBIS
In sprawling Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman sultans (1463-1853), hand-painted Iznik tiles adorn most surfaces in the fantastical harem, including two rooms dubbed, tellingly, the “gilded cage.” Original classical paintings endure on the Imperial Hall’s gold-pastel dome.
PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE VIDLER, SUPERSTOCK/PHOTOLIBRARY
The Chicago Cultural Center was built in 1897 as the central library, symbolizing Chicago’s resurgence after a devastating fire. Today the world’s largest Tiffany dome (38 feet in diameter) sparkles once again thanks to a recent restoration project that cleaned the 30,000 pieces of stained glass. The Healy-Millet dome—a yellow-toned, Renaissance-style work—also dazzles here.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CATHY MELLOAN, ALAMY
High art indeed. Nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, the tranquil Cosmovitral Botanical Garden features 400-plus plant species in a building made primarily of stained glass. Sunlight filters through a 3,200-square-meter ceiling made of 28 hues of glass imported from around the globe. Leopoldo Flores envisioned the colossal glass mural that depicts the journey of the “Sun Man” in the Milky Way.
PHOTOGRAPH BY LUCY NIETO
LAS VEGAS, NV
In a city famed for pulling off mind-blowing feats, hotel ceilings are no exception. Above the Bellagio lobby, Dale Chihuly’s roughly 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers in bright primary colors float in a chandelier called Fiori di Como. In 1998, a team of more than 100 helped the famous sculptor install his 40,000-pound garden, his largest single work.
PHOTOGRAPH BY WILL VAN OVERBEEK
On Chau Chu mountain, visitors find the tomb of Khai Dinh, an exotic site where East meets West. Built from 1920 to 1931 for the Nguyen emperor, the tomb’s interior features colorful mosaics of Oriental design plus hand-painted frescoes inspired by Western churches. Nine whimsical dragons swirl in clouds overhead, creating a gray-and-pastel feast for the eyes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JTB PHOTO COMMUNICATIONS, INC., ALAMY
NEW YORK, NY
The artwork that arches over Grand Central’s 80,000-square-foot main concourse has stirred many emotions. Most admire the ceiling’s astrological mural—a dazzling green-and-gold expanse that portrays the Mediterranean sky with October-to-March zodiac and 2,500 stars. Others, however, dislike that painter Paul Helleu found inspiration in a medieval manuscript that shows the “mirror-image” zodiac as seen from outside the celestial sphere.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ARNOLDIUS, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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