A cupola over a cella. "Cave with the Ring-Bearing Doves" (Cave 123) at the Kizil Caves, Xinjiang, China, 6th-7th century CE. Reconstitution in the Museum für Asiatische Kunst

In architecture, a cupola (/ˈkjuːpələ/)[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 language. In Italian “cupola” simply means dome, the ornamental top element is called “lanterna”. 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.[a]


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.


  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.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
  4. ^ a b "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. Active Interest Media, Inc. p. 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.