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10 Great Ceilings Around The World

Ceilings are bound to get bad-mouthed in the coming weeks as Congress debates raising the federal debt limit again. But some ceilings are worth celebrating, says Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck, which operates around the globe. “Too often we forget to look up. When you pause and gaze skyward, you lift yourself.” She shares with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY some ceilings that soar.Chicago-Cultural

National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne, Australia
One of the continent’s largest art museums displays a masterpiece above its Great Hall: a stained-glass ceiling measuring 200 feet long and 50 feet wide. The work is comprised of 10,000 pieces of hand-cut glass in 50 different colors, Tombaugh says. “It’s one of the finest public art museums in Australia, and this is a showcase for that.” ngv.vic.gov.au

Teatro Nacional
San Jose, Costa Rica
This lavish theater was one of the first buildings in Central America with electric lighting, but it’s most famous for its ceiling murals. One, a tribute to the country’s coffee and banana crops, is notable for technical errors. Painted by an Italian master who hadn’t visited, it shows coffee growing at sea level (it’s normally cultivated in the mountains). And the bananas? “They’re upside down,” Tombaugh says. 866-267-8274; visitcostarica.com

Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood
St. Petersburg, Russia
Constructed on the site where Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, this church was later shut down by Stalin and damaged in the Second World War before finally reopening in 1997. “It went through decades of neglect,” Tombaugh says. Now visitors can see the building’s ornate ceilings depicting Biblical scenes, each surrounded by elaborate patterned borders. 877-221-7120; russiatravel.com

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Strahov Monastery (Theology Hall)
The largest monastic library in the Czech Republic has 2,500 books published before 1500. But some visitors come just to look at the ceiling. It’s adorned with Baroque frescos framed by elaborate stucco work. “Your eyes go from the formal rigidity of the books to all the richness and embellishment. It’s another take-your-breath-away kind of experience,” Tombaugh says. czechtourism.com

Chicago Cultural Center
The former city library showcases the world’s largest Tiffany art-glass dome, which is 38 feet in diameter and contains 30,000 pieces of glass. The dome had a $2.2 million restoration in 2008. “Each piece of glass was cleaned by hand,” Tombaugh says. Every year the center hosts hundreds of free lectures, films, and music, theater and dance performances. 312-744-6630; cityofchicago.org

Library of Congress
While Congress argues about ceilings, lawmakers can see two great ones just across the street from the Capitol. The Main Reading Room features a mural depicting human understanding, while the ceiling in the Great Hall has six stained-glass skylights surrounded by names of 10 classic authors. “You walk in from the Mall and you come to that. It feels very European to me, really inspirational,” Tombaugh says. 202-707-5000; loc.gov

Sistine Chapel
Vatican City
It’s a wonder anyone else has dared paint a ceiling after Michelangelo finished his fresco masterpiece, which some call the high point of the Renaissance. “The glory of that work is perfectly breathtaking,” Tombaugh says. “The simple image of the fingers nearly touching, whether you’re 7 or 97, is incredibly inspiring.” italia.it/en/home.html

Senso-ji Temple
The oldest temple in Japan’s capital city was completed in the year 645. Its ceiling depicts a giant dragon with a globe in its talons, and a mural of the Kannon Bodhisattva, or goddess of mercy. “Because she represents forgiveness, the temple is a favorite of Japanese mobsters,” Tombaugh says. www.jnto.go.jp

The Residenz
Wurzburg, Germany
This Baroque palace, built in 1720 by Viennese, French, and German architects, contains what is believed to be the largest ceiling fresco in the world, covering 6,500 square feet. Painted by Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, “it depicts what was then thought to be the four continents of the world —Europe, Asia, Africa, and America,” Tombaugh says. Germany.travel

Blue Mosque
Built in the early 1600s by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmet, this famous house of worship combines Ottoman and Byzantine architecture. Its name comes from the color of the mosaics lining the building’s interior and ceilings. Made from 20,000 tiles, they’re said to depict the heavens.

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