What is a Cupola? What is a Cupola?

Someone recommends you add a particular feature to your home, and you respond with, “What exactly is a cupola?” You've heard the word before and have a vague idea what it is, but you're not quite sure. Cupolas have been a part of construction for centuries. Many famous types of architectural design include cupolas as elements in both commercial and residential construction.


Cupolas are small, dome-like accents that are normally located at the top of a building. In past times, cupolas served a manor house or castle as a lookout for first-person warning of anyone approaching the structure. It also served as an entry point for both light and air, and was usually situated atop a roof or other dome.

Word Origin

The word "cupola" is from the Latin "cupula" and the Greek "kypellon", meaning "small cup", or a vault that looks like an upside down cup.

Uses in Architecture

Sometimes a cupola is constructed as a freestanding structure itself. A cupola can also serve as a belfry, like many found in churches, cathedrals, mosques and other religious structures where summoning or announcing bells are located. They can also sit atop a tower, turret or spire as found in Indian architecture, where it's called a chhatri.

The city of Kiev in Russia has the most cupolas, and has been dubbed the “City of Golden Cupolas.”

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