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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.[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[edit]


  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.). HarperCollins. Retrieved 2015-04-26.
  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?". 17 March 2014. 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.