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A cyclorama view of Cornell University from McGraw Hall embracing 360 degrees (1902)

A cyclorama is a panoramic image on the inside of a cylindrical platform, designed to give viewers standing in the middle of the cylinder a 360° view, and also a building designed to show a panoramic image. The intended effect is to make viewers, surrounded by the panoramic image, feel as if they were standing in the midst of the place depicted in the image.


Paul Philippoteaux painting the Gettysburg Cyclorama circa 1883. From the archives of Gettysburg National Military Park

Panoramas were invented by Irish painter Robert Barker,[1] who wanted to find a way to capture the panoramic view from Calton Hill in central Edinburgh, Scotland. He subsequently opened his first cyclorama building in Edinburgh in 1787.

Cycloramas were very popular in the late 19th century.[1] The most popular traveled from city to city[1] to provide local entertainment – much like a modern movie. As the viewers stood in the center of the painting, there would often be music and a narrator telling the story of the event depicted. Sometimes dioramas were constructed in the foreground to provide additional realism to the cyclorama. Most major cities had one;[1] circular and hexagonal-shaped buildings were constructed in almost every major US and European city to provide a viewing space for the cycloramas. For example, a 360° depiction of the land and naval battles of Vicksburg was completed and first exhibited in Paris. This work by Lucien-Pierre Sergent and Joseph Bertrand traveled to New York, Chicago and San Francisco and Tokyo.[2] In 1885 the Philadelphia Panorama Company installed the "Battle of Chattanooga" in two units in Kansas City and Philadelphia, it was painted by Eugen Bracht. In 1892 a cyclorama was made of the 1876 "Battle of Little Bighorn."[3]

Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama building at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exhibition in 1909

Hundreds of cycloramas were produced; however, only about thirty survive.

An extension of this concept into motion pictures was pioneered with the invention of the Cinéorama that debuted at the 1900 Paris Exposition. This evolved into such formats as IMAX and Circle-Vision 360°.

Ben-Hur dramatisation[edit]

The main action centerpiece of the 1899 play Ben-Hur was the use of a live chariot race using real horses and real chariots set against a cyclorama. The Era's drama critic detailed how it was achieved by "four great cradles, 20ft in length and 14ft wide, which are movable back and front on railways". The horses galloped full-pelt towards the audience, secured by invisible steel cable traces and running on treadmills. Electric rubber rollers spun the chariot wheels. A vast cyclorama backdrop revolved in the opposite direction to create an illusion of massive speed, and fans created clouds of dust. The critic for The Illustrated London News described it as "a marvel of stage-illusion" that was "memorable beyond all else". The Sketch's critic called it "thrilling and realistic ... enough to make the fortune of any play" and noted that "the stage, which has to bear 30 tons' weight of chariots and horses, besides huge crowds, has had to be expressly strengthened and shored up".[4] It went on to inspire the multi-Oscar-winning 1959 film adaptation of Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston – featuring the key live chariot race.

Surviving examples[edit]

Some notable cycloramas are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Harrison, Nancy (7 August 2011). "Everything Just So: Cycloramas, The North American Tour". The Chattanoogan. Archived from the original on 19 August 2021. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  2. ^ "Land and Naval Battles of Vicksburg, Panorama in Asakusa Park, Tokyo," c. 1891; retrieved 2011-06-03
  3. ^ "Little Bighorn Cyclorama | Little Bighorn History Alliance ~". Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  4. ^ Guardian article: Ben-Hur, London, 1902. 8 October 2003. Accessed 2010-05-27
  5. ^ "Kunstmuseum Thun / Thun Panorama - Thun Panorama - Rundbild / Geschichte" retrieved 2017-07-15
  6. ^[bare URL]
  7. ^ "Laysan Island Cyclorama". Archived from the original on 7 September 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  8. ^ "Panorama 1453".

External links[edit]