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

The word derives, via Italian, from the lower Latin cupula (classical Latin cupella from the Greek κύπελλον kupellon) "small cup" (Latin cupa) indicating a vault resembling an upside down cup.[4]

The cupola is a development during the Renaissance of the oculus, an ancient device found in Roman architecture, but being weatherproof was superior for the wetter climates of northern Europe. The chhatri, seen in Indian architecture, fits the definition of a cupola when it is used atop a larger structure.

Cupolas often appear as small buildings in their own right. They often serve as a belfry, belvedere, or roof lantern above a main roof. In other cases they may crown a spire, tower, or turret.[3] Barns often have cupolas for ventilation.[5]

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.[6][7]

Some armored fighting vehicles have cupolas, called commander's cupola, which is a raised dome or cylinder with armored glass to provide 360-degree vision around the vehicle.[8]


Jahangir%27s Tomb 02

White marble cupolas cap minarets at the Tomb of Jahangir in Lahore, Pakistan

Montefiascone cupola

Cupolas on the towers of Montefiascone Cathedral, Italy.

Cupola ceiling Synagogue Gyor Hungary

Interior of cupola ceiling in the old Synagogue of Győr, Hungary.

Great Mosque Minaret - Kairouan, Tunisia

Ribbed cupola crowns the minaret of the Mosque of Uqba, in Kairouan, Tunisia.

Cupola - Armenian Orthodox church in Lvov

Inside of Armenian Orthodox church cupola in Lviv, Ukraine.

Old Barn at Brookwood Farm MA 02

Cupolas were also used on some old barns for ventilation.

Cupola caboose

A cupola-style caboose with an "angel seat" above

ISS STS130 Cupola view of Algeria coast

View from the interior of Cupola module on the International Space Station.

Optical illusion of a cupola in a church in Northern Italy (Brivio)

See also


  1. ^ "Glossary of Architectural Terms - C". Archiseek: Online Architecture Resources. Archived from the original on 27 December 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
  2. ^ "cupola". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Just what is a cupola anyway?". Cupola Consulting. Retrieved 3 January 2009.
  4. ^ In Italian cupola simply means dome, and the ornamental top element is called lanterna.
  5. ^ "What is a cupola and why do barns have them?". Retrieved 15 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Railroad Dictionary: A". CSX Transportation. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  7. ^ Zabel, Darcy (2005). The (Underground) Railroad in African American Literature. Peter Lang. p. 5. ISBN 9780820468167.
  8. ^ Bradford, George. Axis Armored Fighting Vehicles: 1/72 Scale.

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