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What’s a Belvedere?

June 27th, 2019

By Amy Pepe, Visitor Services Manager and Public Programs Manager at Rose Hill Mansion and Johnston House

It’s a very common question visitors ask us when they visit Rose Hill Mansion: what is a belvedere and why is it called that?

roof of a house

View of the north side of the belvedere

Adorning the top of Mansion, the 4-sided belvedere is the tallest point of the house. Several steps higher than the attic, the belvedere offers stunning views of Seneca Lake to the west and views of rolling farmland in all other directions. Previous owners of the home likely brought guests up to the belvedere to impress them with the view and demonstrate the extent of their property.

The belvedere is not purely for aesthetic purposes, however. While it may have played a more luxurious role in the lives of those who lived at Rose Hill, it had a practical use as well. The belvedere acts as a type of air conditioning: open up the belvedere windows and all the hot air rises up and out of the mansion, allowing cooler air to circulate through the house. In the days before fans and freezers, this was surely a welcome relief in the hot summer months.

 

View from a window

View of Seneca Lake out of the west window of the belvedere.

Down several floors, reinforcements have been built up in the basement to support the weight of the belvedere. The original belvedere was removed in the 1920s due to a persistent leak. When the mansion was restored in the 1960s, the belvedere was rebuilt, although it is about one third smaller than the original.

So, why do we refer to it as a belvedere?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a belvedere as: “a structure (such as a cupola or a summerhouse) designed to command a view.” The term originates from two Italian words: bel, meaning beautiful, and vedere, meaning view. While similar to a cupola – both may be round, square, or multisided – in architectural terms, a belvedere is a type of cupola.  Furthermore, “belvedere” more commonly refers to a structure which can be accessed by stairs, whereas cupolas may be more strictly ornamental.

There has been discussion over the years at Rose Hill about what to call this structure since a belvedere can take many forms: on top of a building or on the ground, and can look like a turret, cupola, or open gallery. Given that we don’t know what the original residents called it, belvedere seems as apt a term as any.

Come take a closer look and explore the belvedere for yourself by taking our Behind the Scenes Tour at Rose Hill Mansion, offered at 11am on the first and third Saturday each month of the season.

Sources:

  1. Buffalo Architecture and History, supported by SUNY Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning,
  2. Merriam-Webster dictionary
  3. Behind the Scenes Tour, Rose Hill Mansion
  4. Craven, Jackie. “All About Cupolas.” ThoughtCo.com/cupola-gallery-of-ideas-for-home-177657

One response to “What’s a Belvedere?”

  1. Norma Press says:

    Very interesting and well written, Amy.

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