Whispering Galleries

Have you ever heard of a whispering gallery? It is an architectural feature that allows a whisper to be heard clearly across other parts of the gallery. Usually it appears beneath a dome or a vault and is a circular or elliptical enclosure. The name comes from the fact that the waves the sound is carried by are known as whispering-gallery waves. They travel around the circumference, clinging to the walls. This phenomenon was first discovered in the whispering gallery of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Whispering Gallery at St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral Whispering Gallery
Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whispering_gallery

There are many whispering galleries in museums and other architectural buildings throughout the world. New York City is home to at least two. The first is the gallery in front of the Oyster Bar restaurant in the Grand Central Terminal. The TV show How I Met Your Mother featured another whispering gallery at the Natural History Museum in New York where characters on the show have fun whispering phrases to surprise listeners across the museum.

Barossa Reservoir Whispering Wall Australia

Whispering Wall at Barossa Reservoir in Australia
Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barossa_Reservoir

Whispering galleries also appear in nature. The Barossa Reservoir in South Australia was built to supply water to northern country areas and at the time of its completion was the tallest in Australia with a height of over 118 feet. The curved retaining wall of the dam creates a parabola effect whispering gallery which has earned this dam the title of “Whispering Wall”. It carries sound clearly over almost 460 feet.

I would love to visit some of these whispering galleries. Have you visited any whispering gallery? What was your experience? Did it live up to the hype?


  1. Alex Trodder

    I’ve been to a whispering gallery before. The tour guide actually dropped two pins and a nail. You could hear the difference between the pin drops and the nail. It was amazing. The building was designed to be a performance hall before the invention of electricity, microphones, and speakers. It’s amazing what some architectural acoustic considerations can do to help amplify sound and make a performance more enjoyable. http://www.noiseconsult.com.au/building-and-architectural-acoustics.html

  2. Langley

    I visited one at Xcaret in Mexico (near Playa del Carmen). It was amazing! I would love to study the science behind it.

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