Cupola: the Mis-named Medieval “Budget Lookout”

Why “mis-named”?

Because cupola means a dome, kind of like a cup that has been turned over on the top of a roof. When is the last time you saw a house with a domed cupola on its roof. Please send me a picture if you have.

The fact is that 99.9% of residential cupolas aren't cupolas at all. But at some point, I guess history must to allow the cupola definition to expand, even if it's the opposite of the original meaning. It's like what noted linguist K.D. Harrison says: There's really no such thing as bad grammar in an adult, since the only way we have of defining the grammar for a particular micro-culture is to look at how the adults in that culture use words. If they use words in contradictory ways, it's interesting, not incorrect.

Why Medieval?

Based on the fact that the Italians, where the word used for our modern “cupolas” originated, didn't get involved in dome-building until after 1000 AD, it's safe to assume this wasn't used residentially until the High Middle Ages.

Why a “Budget Lookout”?

Because you wouldn't need to put a cupola at the peak of a roof if you could afford to build a stone tower to keep tabs on your fiefdom.

Learn more about this fascinating architectural feature by watching my cupola video.