The word “gazebo” has always conjured up an image of a circular garden pavilion in my mind. The walls and roof are made of white lattice and the wooden floor is polished a vivid red. The sun is always shining and for some reason, the time period is always around the 19th century, with people drinking tea and eating scones. Gazebos have several names e.g. pagodas, summerhouses, screen houses pergolas and arbors. Their popularity has risen and fallen nearly as often as the tides. At the moment they are experiencing a popularity resurgence as people crave the illusion of peace that they bring.
Their existence can be traced back thousands of years to the earliest gardens all around the world. They didn’t originally start out as garden structures, but were built as towers or lanterns on the roofs of houses. Their only aim was to provide the owner with spectacular views of the neighbourhood and surrounding areas. It was only years later that they were built on the ground as havens of peace and pavilions from which one could admire one’s garden.
The earliest known gazebos were in Egypt about 5000 BC. They belonged to royalty who believed their gardens to be paradise on earth. They also believed that they could take their gardens with them into the afterlife. In order to do so they had to have the layout for the garden depicted in a mural in the tomb. The earliest mural that has been found in a tomb dates back to 1400 BC. Some historians and archaeologists have speculated that Egyptians used the gazebos as small temples to commune with their gods.
Gazebo-like structures were built in Rome and ancient Greece. They were built to resemble small temples, often complementing the larger temple dedicated to their gods. The building material of choice was marble. As Rome’s population increased and space became an issue, the rich and important in society began building summerhouses along the Mediterranean coasts. Gazebos featured most prominently in these coastal getaways.
Persian gazebos were inspired by Islamic architecture and referred to as “kiosks”. These forms of gazebos could be anything from colourful tents to elaborate 2-story structures with marble columns and golden seats. As Persia suffered from very hot summers, many gazebos were built across pools or streams so that the cool water would help regulate the temperature inside. Pagodas were also used as tombs for their owners.
Pagodas in China were elaborate and ornate. In Japan they were called teahouses and were used for their Tea Ceremonies. They were considered as places to rest, meditate, and achieve spiritual harmony as well as being ideally situated to admire the beauty of the garden. Japan’s view of the pagoda is very much in line with the western view as places of peace and quiet reflection away from the main house. In the late 18th century the architecture of Chinese pagodas became very fashionable in Europe and turned up all across the continent.
The Renaissance saw gazebos become popular structures in monasteries where they were used as shrines and places of worship and meditation. During this time the Italians developed belvederes, which were similar to gazebos in structure. The difference was that they were built inside other buildings, usually on an upper level where there was a good view. Belvederes also became popular in monastery gardens as shrines and places of meditation.
The first time that the word “gazebo” was used was in 1752. William Halfpenny and his son, John, wrote it in a book called, “New Designs for Chinese Temples”. The origins of the word are still a mystery. Etymologists have speculated that William, in a playful mood, added the Latin ending -ebo, as in videbo, meaning “I shall see”, to the word gaze, to get the meaning “I will look”.
Modern gazebos can be found in many public places, as well as private homes. In public parks they often serve as open-air theatres where musical concerts or dances can be held. Charity dinners can be held on pleasant summer nights. There are a variety of activities that can take place within a large public pagoda.
Designs are limited only by the imagination of the designer, and a range of materials can be used. The most popular material is wood; redwood and cedar are particularly good for covering outdoor spas and hot tubs. Belvederes are still popular designs today and are often attached to houses as sun rooms.
Gazebos can be designed to meet a variety of needs. They make beautiful structures for wedding receptions and can be used in gardens to guide vines and other creepers. Folding pavilions can be used for picnics and other outdoor activities to shield you from the sun. Beautiful, versatile and easy to manage as a do-it-yourself project, gazebos have a rich history and a long and peaceful future.