Saving Michelangelo's Dome

How Three Mathematicians and a Pope Sparked an Architectural Revolution


In 1742, when the legendary dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica—designed by Michelangelo—cracks and threatens to collapse, Pope Benedict XIV summons three mathematicians to help, whose revolutionary ideas spark a chain of events that will change the world of architecture forever.

1742: the famous dome atop Saint Peter’s Basilica, designed by Michelangelo, is fractured and threatened with collapse. The dome is the pride of Italy and the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. And no one knows how to fix it.

This engaging and colorful narrative tells the overlooked story of how Michelangelo’s Dome was saved from disaster by three mathematicians and Pope Benedict XIV, who had asked them for help. It is a gripping story of decisive leadership, crisis management, and scientific innovation, and the resistance that was faced when sailing into the headwinds of conventional thought.

In Saving Michelangelo's Dome, Stanford-trained engineer Wayne Kalayjian illustrates how new ideas in science and mathematics established an entirely new way of looking at the world—as well as solving its complex problems. In the end, readers will appreciate that in saving Michelangelo’s Dome from collapse, these three mathematicians and one determined pope unknowingly invented the profession of engineering as we practice it today. With it, they transformed the architectural world and ushered in generations of future buildings and structures that, otherwise, would never have been built.

About the author(s)

Wayne Kalayjian is a civil and structural engineer who has designed bridges, buildings, tunnels, airports, pipelines, railroads, data centers, and power stations around the world. Kalayjian lectures at the University of Southern California and is an engineering expert for the California Department of Consumer Affairs. He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and art history from Tufts University, a master’s degree in structural engineering from Stanford University, and a master’s degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This is his first book.


"A fast and engrossing read. Kalayjian keeps suspense in his entertaining story."

The New York Journal of Books

"A marvelous tale, full of vivid characters whom Kalayjian portrays with gusto. Kalayjian has a deft hand at describing both the thrilling cultural currents animating 18th-century Italy, from Newtonian physics to neoclassical art, and the colorful individuals who provided the convivial fizz for that effervescent culture."

The American Scholar

“Meticulous and illuminating. Kalayjian’s narrative propulsively blends a chronicle of one of the world’s most famous architectural achievements with the story of the birth of modern engineering.”

Publishers Weekly

“Civil and structural engineer Kalayjian narrates the design, construction, and eventual repair of the dome atop St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Alongside the narration of political and personality conflicts, there’s significant information about the engineering behind the construction and restoration of the dome. An accessible book about the history of the dome that sparked an architectural revolution.”

Library Journal

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