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Gazebos have been a popular outdoor and garden decoration for centuries and, indeed, they are as old as the garden itself. A gazebo is a free standing structure with a roof, often in the form of a cupola, and walls that are open on all sides. Traditionally they are built on a height or a site that provides an attractive view. A gazebo can provide shade, basic shelter, enhance a landscape or just be a place to rest and view the landscape around you. The word "Gazebo" first appeared in England in about 1752; it is believed to be a combination of the English word gaze with the Latin suffix ebo which means "I shall," thus gazebo means, "I shall gaze." The term gazebo is also similar to the French term Que c’est beau - "how beautiful." Both terms are appropriate descriptions for a gazebo, because of its use for decorating or beautifying a yard or park, and because gazebos are open on all sides, providing a nice view from within the gazebo in all directions. Also termed summerhouses, screen houses, kiosks, pavilions, pergolas, arbors, grottos, pagodas, lookouts, or belvederes, gazebo-like structures have been found in the earliest gardens and in many ancient and modern cultures. Gazebos are the most popular garden structure, and are continuing to grow in popularity today.
Gazebos are an excellent structure to use as a tool for studying culture, and cultural changes. Because they are often small and simple structures, designers and architects could experiment and explore on them. Some believe the earliest gazebos had their origins as Garden Temples.
The earliest known gazebos were in Egyptian gardens approximately 5,000 years ago, found in a garden plan which dates to about 1400 BC. Murals were created on the tombs of some of the Egyptian royalty with a complete layout of their gardens. The earliest garden plan belonged to an Egyptian high court official who lived in Thebes. Based on the Thebes’ garden design, historians and archaeologists have speculated that enclosed gardens with walled, free-standing enclosures similar to pergolas or what we now call the "gazebo," may date back to 2600 BC or further. Some speculate that early gazebos were used as small temples for communing with the gods. Egyptian royalty often believed their gardens were a paradise on earth and that they could take their gardens to heaven with them, gazebo and all.
Gazebos in Rome and Greece
In Rome and ancient Greece, gazebo-like structures were built similar to small temples, usually out of marble, complementing the better known or larger temple or cathedral structures dedicated to or depicting the gods. Gazebos became popular structures in Rome and Pompeii, as the population of Rome increased and the affluent and aristocratic built summerhouses along the Mediterranean coasts complete with garden gazebos. Gazebos were focal points in homes and public places
Persians developed their own forms of gazebos or garden houses originating from Islamic architecture, called "kiosks." Gazebos in tenth-century Persian gardens could range from anything from colorful tents with mats on the floors, two-story structures with cupolas, marble columns, and golden seats. Turkish sultans lived in summer palaces also termed "kiosks." Some were even constructed across pools or streams so that the cold water running beneath their marble floors would help to cool them. Others were actually used as tombs for their owners.
Middle Age Gazebos
The French built four gazebos at the Louvre during the 14th century. English gazebos which grew in popularity in the 15th century were influenced by the French styles. In English Elizabethan gardens, gazebos were fashioned after the main house and used for entertaining.
Italian and Renaissance Gazebos
Italians developed belvederes during the renaissance, structures similar to the traditional idea of a gazebo, even sharing a similar meaning; in Italian, belvedere means "a beautiful view." Belvederes had a roof and were open on one or more sides. Unlike gazebos, belvederes could be located inside other buildings to provide lighting and ventilation; they were usually situated on an upper part of the structure with a nice view. During the Renaissance, belvederes, another form of the "garden temple," became popular in the gardens of monasteries as shrines and places of meditation. A free standing belvedere is often thought of as a gazebo.
Gazebos in Asia and their Spread to Europe
China and Japan have a long history of small garden pavilions or teahouses, similar to the Western gazebo. China’s gazebos were at times quite elaborate. In Japanese simple teahouses were used in their revered Tea Ceremonies, and were considered places to rest, get in touch with one’s spiritual side, and observe the garden’s beauty. This is similar to the Western culture’s view of gazebos as a place of refuge and solitude in the garden, unconnected from one’s main dwelling, although, Asian influence was insignificant on Western architecture until the 18th century. In the late 18th century, however, Chinese style summerhouses became very popular and began popping up all over Europe, which is when the term Gazebo was first entered into the English vocabulary, when William Halfpenny, an architectural writer, and his son John wrote a book entitled, ‘New Designs for Chinese Temples.’
Early American Gazebos
Gazebos did not gain popularity in America until the mid 1800’s, when the new middle class began to be more prosperous. The gazebo fell slightly out of favor again around the turn of the century, as people began building houses with grand porches. In about 1930, the gazebo began making a return. The gazebos became somewhat of a status symbol, and as noted earlier was a pleasant place of retreat from the household.
Modern gazebos can have all of the qualities and benefits of their forefather gazebos. Today, gazebos are popular structures that can significantly add to the view of a park or yard. They can be a place of retreat disconnected from the household. Some gazebos in public parks are large enough to serve as bandstands, where musical concerts may be performed, where dances and dinners can be held, or where other forms of entertainment may take place.
Today gazebos can be designed according to any whims and dreams of the designer and built from a variety of different but attractive materials. Many people like to get a gazebo kit and build their own gazebos. Redwood and cedar gazebos are popular structures for covering outdoor spas and hot tubs. A glass or windowed gazebo can be used as a green house. Marble gazebos can be used as luxurious decorations or garden fountains. Belvederes built attached to a house or building can be used as sun rooms.
There are many modern uses for gazebos. They are often popular for wedding receptions. Thin, tall gazebos can be placed in a small flower garden in the front yard of home, creating a simple yet elegant look. A garden gazebo can be comfortable place to escape from the world, to sketch or paint, or just sit and read. One popular use of the modern gazebo is providing a structure to grow vines on. Clematis and wisteria as well many ivies are good for this. For those who like to take their gazebo with them, there are folding tent gazebos or pavilions. Folding tent gazebos and pavilions are popular for barbecues or picnics.