How Pergolas Has Stood the Test of Time

A pergola is a decorative archway found in a garden or park with climbing leaves covering it. Around for thousands of years, pergolas may have changed materials, styles, and identified by different names, but they have truly stood the test of time.


It is rumored that the first successful pergolas date back to 1400 BC. The first surviving plant archway is rumored to have been owned by an Egyptian official of high court in Thebes. It remains a mystery as to what inspired creating pergolas- maybe it was driven by the weather or someone recognized its aesthetic beauty- but it has proven to remain a timeless entity.

 
Pergolas have had many uses over the years and have even defined someone of a certain social status. Elite and wealthy people used pergolas to develop intricate hanging gardens, but average citizens also utilized pergolas to produce certain vegetation. They can simply be a structure for vining plants to climb, providing additional privacy and shade. Now the common person has access to the pergolas and all of its uses; it is not only for the wealthy anymore.


The term “pergola” has a Latin origin, meaning “projecting eave”. It is commonly noticed as an arbor, trellis, or extended roof.  Back in the 1640’s in the tail end of the medieval period, Roman John Evelyn first used the term “pergula” to refer to the Trinita dei Monti cloister. Photos of climbing vines in the Medici Villas found near Florence in the 16th century are good examples of what John Evelyn was most likely describing. 
Coincidentally, Eastern Asia inhabitants were also creating their own version of pergolas during this time. They used curved beams which arched over their pagodas, closely resembling the Roman versions. 


With the 17th century came an archeological boost to the design of pergolas. The revival of this artistic period brought the creation of structures that please the eye over their functionality. The Great Italian Renaissance constructed big and dramatic smooth stone pillar pergolas. Great garden designers of the 19th and 20th century including Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll embodied the creation of pergolas of that era. 
Pergolas of the new age are mainly constructed of fiberglass and vinyl, not the stone and brick used by former generations. Vinyl and fiberglass are ideal materials for pergolas because they require very little maintenance and last a lifetime. Stylish pergolas made of red cedar or number one grade treated pine in two-beam or four have become the new industry standard.


Along with decorative archways, pergolas have been used to cover roads, walkways, or as building extensions. Permanent pergolas created out of rock, stone, vinyl, and fiberglass have also become an option. An artistic structural feature that once flourished in Egypt, Greece, France and Asia have now spread to all parts of the world. 


The functionality and simplicity of pergolas is a staple in history and will most likely continue to be a popular feature. Even though pergolas did lose popularity in 18th and 19th century naturalistic gardening styles due to its obviously artificial construction, changing the materials to include stone and brick pillars helped pergolas make its comeback in the 19th and 20th centuries. The dynamic and powerful structures pioneered by Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens to complement pergolas epitomized their non-official trademark of luxuriously planted firm erections. The gardens at The Hill in Hampstead, London, showcase a particularly extensive pergola designed by Thomas Mawson who created it for W.H. Lever.

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