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The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, also known as the Duomo, in Florence, Italy, which includes a cupola. Santa Maria del Fiore, Duomo.JPG
The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, also known as the Duomo, in Florence, Italy, which includes a cupola.

In architecture, a cupola ( /ˈk(j)pələ/ ) [1] is a relatively small, most often dome-like, tall structure on top of a building. [2] Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome. [3] [4]


The word derives, via Italian, from lower Latin cupula (classical Latin cupella), from Ancient Greek κύπελλον (kúpellon) 'small cup' (Latin cupa), indicating a vault resembling an upside-down cup. [lower-alpha 1]


The cupola evolved during the Renaissance from the older oculus. Being weatherproof, the cupola was better suited to the wetter climates of northern Europe. [ citation needed ] The chhatri, seen in Indian architecture, fits the definition of a cupola when it is used atop a larger structure.[ citation needed ]

Cupolas often serve as a belfry, belvedere, or roof lantern above a main roof. In other cases they may crown a spire, tower, or turret. [4] Barns often have cupolas for ventilation. [5] [6]

Cupolas can also appear as small buildings in their own right.

The square, dome-like segment of a North American railroad train caboose that contains the second-level or "angel" seats is also called a cupola. [7] [8]

See also


  1. In Italian, cupola simply means 'dome', and the ornamental top element is called lanterna.

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  1. "cupola". Merriam-Webster Dictionary .
  2. "Glossary of Architectural Terms - C". Archiseek: Online Architecture Resources. Archived from the original on 27 December 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
  3. "cupola". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). HarperCollins. Retrieved 2015-04-26.
  4. 1 2 "Just what is a cupola anyway?". Cupola Consulting. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
  5. "What is a cupola and why do barns have them?" . Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  6. Active Interest Media, Inc. (November 1980). "Old-House Journal". Old House Journal. Active Interest Media, Inc.: 177. ISSN   0094-0178.
  7. "Railroad Dictionary: A". CSX Transportation. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  8. Zabel, Darcy (2005). The (Underground) Railroad in African American Literature . Peter Lang. p.  5. ISBN   9780820468167.