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 dome of Florence Cathedral, which includes a cupola at the top

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]


On armoured vehicles

The turret of a Japanese Type 91 Ha-Go light tank with its distinctive, bubble-shaped commander's cupola

The term cupola can also refer to the protrusions atop an armoured fighting vehicle due to their distinctive dome-like appearance. They allow crew or personnel to observe, offering very good all round vision,[9] or even field weaponry, without being exposed to incoming fire. Later designs, however, became progressively flatter and less prominent as technology evolved to allow designers to reduce the profile of their vehicles.

See also



  1. ^ In Italian, cupola simply means "dome", and the ornamental top element, allowing light to enter, is called a lantern (Italian: lanterna).


  1. ^ "cupola". 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.
  9. ^ "#15 Turrets: They are the Combat Power of the Tank". 22 November 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2023.