12 julio, 2024

Pendentive (architecture): origin, characteristics, examples

The pendentive It is a structural component used in architecture to support or support a dome. In addition to supporting the load of the dome to reinforce its bases, the pendentive serves as a connecting element between two geometric shapes: the circle of the dome with the square that forms the area that is protected by this dome.

The main characteristic of the pendentive is that it forms a triangular figure that is upside down. It can be said that there are two ways to use the pendentive, but in both cases it depends on the structure of the dome they support.

The importance of these components is that it allowed domes to be erected over spaces that had a square or similar shape. It worked because the pendentive fulfilled the function of supporting the external force generated by the weight of the domes and this force was concentrated in the corners to propagate to the bases of the work.

Before the use of pendentives, domes were also made, but the structure had to meet other parameters and the dimensions of the vaults were much more limited. There are several architectural works that use pendentives around the world, although the most renowned and famous case is that of the Hagia Sophia church in Turkey.



Prior to the use of the pendentive, architects had other ways to support the domes in buildings. The pendentive was used with the aim of achieving higher vaults and supporting the weight of the buildings, especially in works of a religious nature.

Although it is claimed that the Romans were the first to use the pendentive between the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Christ, it was during the Byzantine Empire that it had its greatest boom and the way of using this component in architectural works was perfected.

The pendentive was widely used in churches, especially those of the Orthodox religion or those made during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Islamic architecture, Catholics in Europe and works in Latin America also took advantage of using the pendentive.

The most famous example can still be seen in the Hagia Sophia in Turkey. This enclosure has a vault of more than 60 meters high that is sustained thanks to the use of pendentives in its corners.


The word pendentive comes from the Latin term ‘pectin’ or ‘pectinis’. According to the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Language (RAE), pendentive is used to define two things: first, the shell used by Spanish pilgrims, which was nothing more than the shell of scallops. They used it as an emblem or symbol on their clothes and that is how they identified themselves.

The other definition that appears in the dictionary refers to the pendentive as an architectural element.


The most important characteristic of the use of the pendentive has to do with its structural function. They are in charge of transferring the weight exerted by the vault of a construction towards the columns.

There are other architectural elements that are similar to the pendentive and care must be taken not to confuse them. For example, the tubes is an arch that is located in the internal part of the pendentive and is a method to reinforce the structure.

The pendentive is always used in a group of four, otherwise its purpose could not be fulfilled.

They are elements that were widely used in religious buildings during the Romanesque era, although it was not common among Italian architects. In the European and American continent, the use of pendentives was normal in the Renaissance and in the Baroque period.

In the case of Islamic works, the pendentive may have some decorations, such as moldings or elongated figures.


The clearest references to the pendentive are found in Byzantine works, because the Romans used this element on few occasions. The most emblematic case took place in Constantinople, or what is now known as Istanbul, with the Hagia Sophia church.

One of the most important versions of the Romans occurred in the Basilica of San Marcos in Venice (Italy).

There are also works prior to Santa Sofía that, according to historians, served as inspiration for this building, as was the case with the church of San Sergio and San Bacchus, also known as little Santa Sofía, or the church of San Vital de Rávena.

Basilica of Saint Mother Sophia in Türkiye

It is the best example of the use of the pendentive to reinforce the domes. It is linked to the Byzantine period and was built during the 6th century AD. The base of the main area has a square shape and above is the vault supported by the use of pendentives in its corners.

Although the original dome collapsed after an earthquake, the design was maintained in its reconstruction. The only difference was that lighter elements were used and the height was slightly higher.

Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Italy

It is an older construction than the Hagia Sophia church. It is part of the San Vital church, built in Ravenna, and its construction dates from the 5th century after Christ. It was characterized by its central vault that is supported with the help of pendentives.

Sistine Chapel in the Vatican

In the corners of the chapel you can see the pendentives. Each one has decorations that serve to narrate the history of freedom of the Jewish population in ancient times.


The pendentive was of great importance for architecture and its development since it represented the birth of a new procedure that allowed vaults in buildings to have larger dimensions.

On an aesthetic level, it was also a method of great relevance because the structure it created allowed the use of new forms of decoration. Each area (the pendentive is used in groups of four) allowed a different story to be told in each space and thus a new form of narrative was achieved through architecture.

It gave the domes even more value since higher spaces could be created with a double function: first to venerate God and also to serve as a canvas for artists.


Gardner, Helen et al. Gardner’s Art Through The Ages. Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2013.
Harris, Cyril M. Illustrated Dictionary Of Historic Architecture. Dover Publications, 2013.
Laxton, William. The Civil Engineer And Architect’s Journal. 27th ed., 1864.
Pigliucci, Massimo, and Jonathan Kaplan. Making Sense Of Evolution. The University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Ragette, Friedrich. Traditional Domestic Architecture Of The Arab Region. A. Menges, 2003.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *