The History of Cupolas

Good Directions Cupola and WeathervaneCupolas are both ornamental and functional in design. They are placed on top of domes or roofs and provide ventilation and natural light. This natural light is great for attics and loft spaces. The word cupola comes from a Latin term “little cupo” or little dome. Cupolas are made from an assortment of materials, which include aluminum, wood, fiberglass, and vinyl. The tops of the cupolas can be covered in either traditional shingles or copper.

The Humble Beginning of the Cupolas

Cupolas began to appear in Islamic architecture around the 8th century. These first cupolas were very large and contained one or more balconies by which criers would call for prayer. These large cupolas were placed on top of minarets.

Later on, these architectural structures were not limited to government building but could be found on homes in the Middle East and India.

Later on, nomadic Moors brought them to Europe by way of Spain. Cupolas are very prevalent in Bavarian and Austrian churches where the domed roofs topped with cupolas prevented snow from accumulating and collapsing the structure.

From here, cupolas decorated English architecture and spread throughout the world.

Once in America, cupolas could be found on government buildings, churches and homes. Large cupolas could be found on homes and were referred to as “Widow Walks.” These were very popular along the coasts where women would lookout to the seas in search of their lost love ones.

These architectural details, later on, could be found on stables, barns, and gazebos. They were also scaled down to fit on birdhouses, and even on top of fence posts and lanterns.

As the areas of where cupolas are used have changed so has their size. Cupolas in the beginning resembled little houses on top of roofs. Today’s cupolas are scaled down so that there is more control over light and ventilation. In many situations, today’s cupolas are solely used for decoration.

While a copper topped cupola is beautiful by itself, adding a weathervane can enhance its look. If you live in an area where there are a lot of trees, this can be an approach to use if you want a functional weathervane. The cupola will give the weathervane elevation, this can be enough so that it can turn in the breeze.

Cupolas can add air and light to places that are hard to reach, such as lofts and attics. This added ventilation could prevent moisture buildup that in time can cause mold, peeling paint and rotting wood. While today’s cupolas can provide this, their true purpose is to add beauty to an area that fairly often is overlooked and that is the roof. But before you decide to add a cupola to your homestead make sure the architecture of the cupola is a harmonious match with your overall design.

Outdora features an assortment of wood and copper cupolas from Good Directions and Whitehall, any of which would make a handsome addition to any rooftop.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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