Cupola Overview

Pronounced "coo-po-la", this architectural structure comes from several words to include Italian: cupula, Greek: kupellonI, and Latinis cupa, which all describe one thing - the appearance of an upside down cup. The design of the cupola is a dome, usually small, based on a polygonal or circular base that rests beautifully on a turret or roof. One way to look at the cupola is as a type of gazebo built on top of a roof. From this vantage point, people could stand in its tall tower, gazing down below. In fact, when originally built, the cupola also featured bells that would ring out to the valley below, and lanterns, which could be see from the windows.

Ornamental Addition

Typically, the cupola is viewed as an ornamental addition, a structure that can be seen on a roof from a great distance. However, some people refer to the cupola as a type of temple, which serves almost like a crown to the building. Keep in mind that while a cupola can be quite large, they are also available in miniature size, something a person could add to a backyard gazebo for embellishment. On the other hand, there are occasions when the cupola is the primary architectural feature of the roof, in the form of a turret, spire, or actual tower.

Cupola Accessibility

As far as accessibility, most can be accessed from the inside. Again, with the location of the cupola, once inside, you would be able to see all around a town, city, or the countryside. The cupola is typically broken down into two categories. First, the type where you can enter from the inside via stairs is known as a belvedere, or more intimately called a "widow's walk." However, if the cupola has perforations with windows, allowing lanterns to provide illumination, they are called lanterns.

Dome Shape

No matter the size, color, or category, the one thing all cupolas have in common is the dome-shape. In addition to providing light and even ventilation, the cupola to this day makes a great lookout point. Today, you will see a number of homes and businesses featuring a cupola. For instance, Greek revival architecture is famous for boasting cupolas. In addition, homes in the north section of Pennsylvania and upstate New York are also popular for cupolas.


The cupola is created in a number of varying shapes as well. In this case, you might see one that is round, which is very common, or the cupola might be rectangular, square, or octagonal. If you look back in history, many historians believe the cupola is most famous for being an Indian lookout point. However, other historians think the cupola was merely designed to embellish the appearance of a building while providing an excellent view.