Pendentive domes—or domes with a circular plan used as vaulting for a square hall—emerged in Byzantine architecture. That well known fact has not, however, been explained. This lecture offers an explanation for the elaboration of pendentives as the result of the encounter of two different architectural practices concerning domes: classical Roman and eastern vaulting traditions. Roman builders made the footprint of vaulting match the footprint of the room or structure that supported the vaulting. Such a system made structural sense and provided the greatest support for the outward thrust of any vaulting system. Thus, for example, rectangular halls were roofed with barrel vaults that were supported along their entire length by the parallel walls of the room beneath, and circular domes capped circular halls. In the eastern Mediterranean, domes with a circular plan were instead built atop square rooms since Mesopotamian times with a technique still in use in vernacular examples. The encounter of Roman builders with eastern traditions produced pendentives domes, which capped square or rectangular halls, giving rise to new spatial effects. The invention of pendentive domes is a particularly important instance of the fruitfulness of exchanges that occurred across the various Christian and Muslim shores of the Mediterranean.
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