Gazebos – from Ancient Times to Present Day

The typical definition of a gazebo describes a solid-roof open structure, often seen in gardens and other outdoor spaces. The construction serves various purposes, such as rain or sun protection, a place for rest and recreation or, very often, landscape décor. The place a gazebo is situated is also strategically chosen to provide access to beautiful scenery and the view it offers is often key to its location. It might also occupy a distant spot from the main dwelling place of its owner but often serves as a tiny refuge of comfort that reflects home and reminds one of it. Buildings of this kind in the distant past served as religious sites and places of pastime and pleasure.

In the course of a few thousand years, gazebos evolved from monuments of faith to places of entertainment. They were called in various ways too, namely pergolas, summer houses, arbors, grottos, to name a few. Vastly different kinds of societies took advantage of the gazebo, each using it in its own unique way. Generation after generation saw its popularity grow into a prevalent, innovative and widespread outdoor phenomena.

Gazebos were initially built on house roofs in the form of towers, providing full view of the surrounding land. Consequently, they started functoning as garden structures, making their way from the roof to the ground. They were used as early as ancient Egypt to recreate paradise on earth in the beautiful gardens of the chosen few, giving them a special place on tomb murals as well, since Egyptians believed the beautiful constructions, providing them with shade during festivals and supporting the precious vines that turned into raisins and wine, would follow them on their journey to the otherworld. As gazebos became more and more prominent, they became accessible to the common man and started showing up in almost every garden.

While there were still gazebos that served the purpose of tombs, most were created for use in gardens. A look at tenth-century gardens in Persia would reveal a vast variety of the structure. They could either resemble a tent with colourful walls and floor mats, to marble structures with ornate elements from gold, metal and precious stones. They would be placed near fountains and pools, where the wealthy Persians would escape the heat in a manmade paradise of exotic and luxurious plants. (Check out this article to find out more about the origins of the gazebo.) Apart from serving as little bits of heaven that pleased the eye and prompted for relaxation, gazebos were also places where politics and business negotiations also took place.

A lot of remains in Pompeii and Rome have been discovered, showing that private gardens were widespread, serving to both grow food and provide a place for relaxation and escape from the fast pace of everyday life. Greeks on the other hand diverged from other cultures in the lack of private gardens, concentrating on public places of recreation around temples, where they enjoyed their gazebos in the form of marble constructions, which resembled small versions of the temple itself. Since gazebos and the location on which they were constructed were considered part of the main temple, they were seen as sacred spaces and were usually dedicated to a particular god or goddess. Going out of the domain of the rich and prominent, gazebos gradually became a must-have element of every garden.  

Similar to the Greek, Chinese gazebos also emerged in the form of religious monuments. Instead of marble, however, their original building material was the earthquake-resistant wood. The traditional and sacred elements shone in black, red and gold and, as gazebos turned more elaborate, they became places to pray, worship or meditate. Even Zen Buddhists started incorporating the constructions at their temples.

By the middle of the 4th century, Japan had already caught on the garden or “teahouse” trend, as that’s what gazebos used to be called. The new places for relaxation held tea ceremonies of religious character, which were supposed to help one get in tune with their spiritual side. Whether it was enjoying the beauty of the garden, meditation or relaxation, the space was ideal. And that is how gazebos of the west came to reflect the Japanese idea of reflection and peace.

During the Renaissance, gazebos began their popularity and expansion in Europe as well. Four gazebos  at the Louvre in the 14th century inspired the English to start constructing the beautiful structures in their own gardens. Monks started using them for prayer and meditation in monastery gardens. The Elizabethan age saw them as places of entertainment, modeled after the main building. By the 18th century, gazebos were already a common element of homes all over England and the rest of Europe.

Despite their popularity and commonality in Western Europe, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that they became spread in the United States and Australia. They stood as a symbol of the wealth and prosperity of the middle class, and gazebo construction soon took off. The trend seemed to fluctuate, however, since their popularity soared in the 1930s, only to be overshadowed by patios 10 years later.

Later, in the 1980s, they made a strong return, as people recognized more and more the benefits of a retreat from house clutter and chaos.

Today’s gazebos are still an outdoor element. They are however diverging from traditional structures in scale and design. You can check out some modern designs here. For the sake of size, convenience and economy, architects are now experimenting on a smaller scale more than ever. Gazebos can either be connected to the house via a deck, or be placed around a pool of water, in order to provide full view of a beautiful scenery. The fact that you can place them effectively pretty much anywhere on a landscape is their huge advantage.

When planning gazebo construction, there are a few points to consider, in order to achieve success in both meeting the expectations, and fulfilling a desired function. Key aspects to a successful gazebo are:

Functionality – The first thing to consider about a gazebo before you start building it, is its intended future use. Some people might want one for a family wedding or other celebration. If it is supposed to host a small party, then it needs to be big enough to hold the table and chairs needed. Simple furnishing and accessories are perfect for a small gazebo, intended to host a few people. Large constructions take up to one fifth of the total area of the yard where it is positioned, whereas a small one needs to be at least 6 x 6 feet. If a wet bar or hot tub is intended, access to water should be taken care of first, and the gazebo location chosen accordingly.   

Location – Location choice comes immediately after functionality. Most people prefer their gazebo in front of, or next to, their house. This decision is usually made in order to provide quick access to the kitchen or bathroom. Another common placement is amidst a garden, when surroundings offer a pleasant view to enjoy from the gazebo. When the intended purpose is a quiet retreat, the gazebo might be placed in a more distant corner of the property. Regardless of the position, however, quick and easy access to the gazebo is of utmost importance, so the pathway to the structure is also one of the first things to consider as well. A stone one would be perfect and comfortable, regardless of the weather. It also looks most natural and helps incorporate the gazebo into the overall surroundings.

Design – Type comes next, since models and features are practically infinite. The type of gazebo structure chosen often depends on what would fit the scenery, represented by the main house and garden. It needs to be seamlessly incorporated into the overall picture, as well as match the owner’s personal taste and preferences. Shapes could be round, rectangular, square or octagonal. Depending on the surroundings, it could be large, small, plain or elaborate, rustic or elegant. When the gazebo is placed in front of the main building, the style and materials used to build it will complement the design of the house. Materials used should also be durable and resistant to weather conditions, in order to allow the owners to enjoy their gazebo as long as possible.

And last but not least, Accessories. They create the finishing touch that makes the gazebo beautiful. Some are equipped with shutters to keep out the cold and provide privacy. Others are equipped with solar panels, benches, hammocks or even a fire pit. Curtains or nets might be necessary in warmer climates and near water areas, to keep mosquitoes and other bugs out. Shades for sunny days and lights for night-time use are often a must. If the gazebo is the light, foldable and portable type, it is ideal for adventurous owners who love the open. Just hop it on the roof rack of your family van and you have a little piece of home to join in on all of your travels. It really depends on the owner’s lifestyle and preferences. Options are endless.

A gazebo is not just a luxurius element in a home. It provides a quiet haven that helps the owner escape  everyday worries or enjoy the beauty of surrounding scenery without leaving the comfort of home. It’s the perfect place to escape computers, telephones and other househod electronics and noises, providing an awesome getaway right in your backyard.  


Tags: garden, gazebo, gazebo design

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