History of Cupolas

What is a Cupola?
Cupolas are highly ornamental accenting structures placed in prominent positions on top of a dome or roof. They can also appear as petite buildings, such as small temples resting atop another structure.
You’ve probably seen cupolas adorning the tops of gazebos or garden pavilions. Many times, cupolas on roofs allow access from the inside of the building. This access facilitates venting of tight attic or loft spaces as well as providing an inexpensive light source (and great views)!

The word cupola originates from Latin, meaning "small cupo" or little dome. Historically, it originally referred to the small dome typically sitting atop cathedrals which allowed light to enter the sanctuary. While many of those cupolas are still in existence, we are more familiar with the cupolas we see on homes, barns and stables as well as some prominent government buildings.
Most cupolas are constructed of vinyl or wood with traditional shingle or copper roofs. They may feature windows or louvers to admit light and allow ventilation. For years, cupolas have been an example of aesthetic design and practical utility. They are a classic, timeless accent to private homes and surrounding structures as well as public and government buildings.
History of Cupolas
T he first recorded use of cupolas was their widespread presence atop most Islamic architecture around the first part of the 8 th century. They often topped minarets (a tall, slender tower attached to a mosque), and would have one or more projecting balconies from which the muezzin or “crier” would call the faithful to prayer.

They were typically placed over the center sections or corners of mosques.s time progressed, cupolas were placed on domestic dwellings in the Middle East and India.
It has been speculated that the Moors (a mixed race of Arabs and Berbers from North Africa) brought cupola architecture to Spain. The influence of Islam reputedly advanced its spread throughout the rest of Europe as seen in the rounded domes of churches throughout Bavaria and Austria. The 17 th and 18 th century architectural style specifically highlights this style – the “onion dome,” as seen in St. Petersburg, is a particular example. Not only exceptionally decorative, the incline of the dome allows the snow to slide off the cupola, preventing caved roofs (still a common hazard in that part of the world).
Once cupolas were integrated into English domestic architecture, their spread to America was inevitable. Evidence of the cupola design is apparent if one observes American architectural design, particularly during the post-Revolutionary Federalist era, i.e., the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.
Around this period, Americans wishing to distinguish themselves from their neighbors began to place cupolas on their residences and surrounding outdoor structures, such as barns or stables, posts and lanterns.
The design started to change slightly as people became more aware of the actual benefit of cupolas: allowing clear light and also covered ventilation pieces. Once the practical benefits were discovered, the cupola trend really took off. If you travel through America now – particularly around the New England area – you will find hundreds upon hundreds of cupolas still adorning homes, barns and other structures.
Today’s cupolas are manufactured of many materials. While wood is still a favorite, maintenance-free vinyl is quickly gaining momentum. It’s glorious to see the past still sitting pretty atop the world’s finest buildings and maybe, on top of yours.


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