A History of Gazebos

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A two story gazebo at Ammand Dam, Tabriz, Iran. (Image Credit: AmirAK)

The history of Gazebos and its uses from the oldest known Egyptian garden plan to Persian, Greek and Roman uses of gazebos, across to China and Japan.

A gazebo is a structure with a solid roof, and traditionally open at all sides. It has many uses including a rain shelter, to provide shade, to provide a place for solitude and reflection or just as a decorative feature in a landscape. The key element of a gazebo is that it is situated strategically to offer beautiful views of the surrounding area.

Gazebos have been part of gardens for thousands of years; the earliest historical gazebos were in use in Egyptian gardens 5,000 years ago.

Gardens and Gazebos in Ancient Egypt and Persia

Gardens in Egypt were built close to a body of water and were normally used for producing food. The rich, however, as well as growing crops, could afford to grow trees and flowers, the flowers used to make garlands to wear at festivals, the trees to provide welcome shade. Pools were filled with fish while gazebo-type structures were built in order that vines could grow, producing wine and raisins.

Egyptians believed that when they died, their garden including the gazebos, followed them on the journey to heaven.

The Persians, in modern day Iran, designed gardens filled with lush plants of striking colours at odds with the hot dry environs of the landscape, the most famous being the Hanging Gardens of Babylon renowned as one of The Seven Wonders of the World. They were able to achieve these marvels because of qanats, an underground engineering system of aqueducts that brought melted snow from the mountains down onto the plains. Water was a major feature of a Persian garden with pools and fountains inserted into the geometrical design. A wealthy Persian would escape from the heat and make his way to a gazebo situated in his own bit of paradise.

Gardens were built to be viewed aesthetically and to raise the spirits, but Persians did not only relax under their gazebos; gardens were also areas where politics and business took place, diplomats greeted and treaties signed.

Gazebos and Gardens in the Classical World

Greeks were unlike other cultures in that they did not own private gardens to display their wealth; instead all their gardens were public spaces. Gardens were built around temples and gazebos were constructed, usually out of marble, in a smaller design of the main temple in dedication to the god or goddess. The gazebo and the garden were regarded as the same space as the temple and therefore sacred.

Romans, on the other hand, all owned private gardens, a place of relaxation and refuge to escape from the fast pace of urban life. Archaeological remains in Pompeii have revealed that all citizens had a private garden used to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables. Gardens and gazebos were not only the domain of the wealthy.

Gazebos for Worship, Meditation and Tea Ceremonies

By the 4th century CE, a separate gardening culture had developed in China which then travelled across the sea to Japan, where it developed into the rock gardens influenced by Zen Buddhists and found at the Zen temples of meditation.

In China, gazebos were originally constructed of wood that made them resistant to earthquakes but vulnerable to flames and wood-rot. They were designed in an elaborate style portraying Chinese art and iconography and painted in Oriental colours of gold, black and red. Gazebos (and pagodas which are also a type of gazebo) were used as places of worship and of spiritual meditation.

In Japan, on the other hand, gazebos were constructed in a much more simple fashion and were used in their formal Tea Ceremonies. They were regarded as places to relax and for personal spiritual meditation, as well as to appreciate the beauty of the garden.

The Japanese’s view of a gazebo is similar to that found in the culture of the Western world; gazebos are designed to be a structure of peace and sited to take a person’s refuge and solitude into account, away from the main dwelling place.

The Origin of the Word Gazebo

The origin of the word is unknown and it has no cognate in any European language. Several theories have been put forward that it may have its origins in Islam, Latin, Hispano-Arabic or French. It first entered the English language in the middle of the 18th century when an architectural writer, William Halfpenny, published a book on Chinese architecture.

Gazebos Today

Gazebos were common in Western Europe during the Middle Ages but did not gain in popularity in the United States until the middle of the 18th century with the emergence of a wealthy middle-class. Today they are still popular as an outside room or, with a more modern twist, used to house a hot-tub.

Sources:

  1. Carroll, Maureen. Earthly Paradises: Ancient Gardens in History and Archeology. London, British Museum Press, 1986
  2. Khansari, Medhi et al. The Persian Garden, Echoes of Paradise. Washington, DC., Mage Publishing, 1998
  3. Turner, Tom. Garden History, Philosophy and Design 2000 BC-2000 AD. New York, Spoon Press, 2005
  4. Jashemski, WMF. The Gardens of Pompeii: Herculaneum and the Villas Destroyed by Vesuvius. New York, Caratzaz Brothers, 1979
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