Originally, cupolas had functional purposes, such as to admit light and air or to provide a lookout position. In these cases, the entire main roof of a tower or spire might be referred to as a cupola. Cupolas differ from bell towers, steeples or campaniles in that they are details on a structure rather than being a structural part of a building.
A variation of a normal cupola is one that can be reached by climbing an internal stairway. This is often called a belvedere or widow’s walk.
Modern cupolas are mostly ornamental architectural features crowning the main roof, sometimes providing a position for a flag, religious symbol, weather vane, and so on.
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