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  • Barry Lenson

How Long Have People Been Building Pergolas? Why Are they Still Popular Today?

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

People have loved pergolas for thousands of years. Let’s look at their history.

The ancient Romans called them “pergulae” and installed them in their gardens. People today still love and install pergolas. Let’s take a quick look at their history.

As noted above, the word pergola comes from the Latin word “pergula.” A pergola is typically an outdoor structure consisting of columns or posts that support a roof, often made of wooden slats or beams or fabric, and designed to provide shade, support climbing plants, or create an open, airy space. Pergolas are commonly used in gardens, patios, and outdoor living areas.

The visual appeal and utility of pergolas can be enhanced by what people put under them. Choices include outdoor chairs and sofas, tables, outdoor carpets and even fountains and plantings. Barbecues and other outdoor cooking appliances can also be placed under pergolas, provided they do not present a smoke or fire hazard.

How Long Have People Been Building Pergolas?

One of the early mentions of a pergola-like structure in literature can be found in the works of the Roman author and philosopher Pliny the Younger, who lived from about 24 until 79 AD (CE). Pliny was a remarkable figure – a philosopher, historian, and naval commander, among other things.

Pliny wrote letters that included descriptions of his villas and gardens. In a letter to his friend Gallus, he mentioned a structure he referred to as a "pergula" in his Laurentine villa. This appears to be one of the earliest written references to such a structure:

"I have added a most charming portico, the delight of my heart; I have put up a colonnade, and supported a terrace on arches, which commands a most extensive and lovely view; the weather has been most favorable to my labors, and I think I shall make you confess that you never saw anything more completely elegant."

This mention of a "portico" and "terrace on arches" seems to describe a pergola-like structure in his garden.

How Have Pergolas Evolved Over the Centuries?

As the quote from Pliny documents, Pergolas were in use in the Roman Empire after the birth of Christ. Roman wall paintings further document that Romans used pergolas in gardens and courtyards to provide shade and support climbing plants.

But pergolas were popular elsewhere in the ancient world too, and their popularity has only grown over the centuries.

  • In ancient Egypt, they were constructed with stone columns and used to provide shade in outdoor spaces.

  • In ancient Greece, they were used as garden features and outdoor living spaces. It is even possible that the stoas, which were shaded porch-like structures erected in the agora (or “market”) of ancient Athens were similar to pergolas. These stoas were popular not only with merchants, but with philosophers as well. These structures lent their name to an entire school of philosophy, Stoicism, practiced by Marcus Aurelius, Zeno, Epictetus, and others.

  • During the Renaissance in Europe, pergolas became more elaborate and decorative. They were often adorned with ornate carvings and used to connect different sections of formal gardens. Pergolas were especially popular in Italian Renaissance gardens, where they were integrated into the landscape design to create shaded pathways.

  • In the 18th and 19th Centuries, pergolas remained popular in Europe and North America too, often to create shaded outdoor seating areas and walkways.

  • Then in the 20th Century, pergolas saw a resurgence in popularity in the United States and other Western countries. They are often seen in residential gardens, parks, and botanical gardens.

Modern Pergolas Today

In the 21st century, pergolas have continued to be popular in landscape design and architecture. Modern pergolas can be made from a variety of materials, including wood, aluminum, and vinyl.

And features have been added. Contemporary pergolas often incorporate retractable canopies, lighting, and other modern features to enhance their functionality and aesthetics.

Pergolas continue to provide shade, define outdoor spaces, support climbing plants, and enhance the aesthetics of gardens, patios, and outdoor living areas. They have a long and storied history that spans numerous cultures and time periods, making them a timeless and versatile architectural element in landscape design.

To Write Your Own Chapter in the History of Pergolas . . .

Visit, the leading provider of high-quality custom-made pergolas. While you are visiting, be sure to fill out the online form and get a free quote on the pergola of your dreams.

Ancient Romans and Egyptians weren’t the only people who loved pergolas. You will love yours too.

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