In 2002, an old pergola on Pioneer Square, Seattle was accidentally obliterated by a truck driver. Almost a hundred years old, its death wrenched the hearts of its citizens and the kind city folk of Seattle restored it to be a stronger force to reckon with. But where did the pergola come from? What brought about this lattice-roofed tunnel of pillars?
The pergola’s roots are found deeply set in Egypt and China. Both ancient civilizations had devised ways of providing shade during the hot months. While the Egyptians had made them angular and long, the Chinese had made them curved and round. The former made them from shady trees that bore fruits like figs and grapes. The latter designed them for houses and temples.
With the conquest of Egypt, grapes and vine training systems were introduced to the Romans. Its usefulness against the sun did not go unnoticed as well. Tree boughs that were entwined together became a popular addition to the mansions of the Roman aristocracy. The Renaissance period and the works of Leon Battista Aberti brought the pergola back into the limelight with the creation of shady garden tunnels made entirely of trees and interlaced branches, with white roses blooming within.
When the Roman Empire fell, the pergola was brought to the background but not forgotten. During King Charles the VIII’s raid of Italy in the 1400’s, the pergola became one of the many art forms plundered. Soon, French mansions became fashionable with these shade-endowing structures.
Two hundred years later, the pergola began to take on newer forms. Stone structures and the predominant masonry of the time started to serve as its pillars. Lattice structures were evolving and began to grow more intricate and sturdy. A century later, its artificial form was rejected by the naturalists and the pergola once again faded into the shadows.
By the time the 19th century arrived, the pergola was starting to become trendy again thanks to two Britons: Sir Edwin Lutyens, their greatest architect, and Gertrude Jekyll, a garden designer. Their gardening and housing gigs brought the pergola back to life with the soft garden tones mixing with the classic rail-like structures.
Soon the garden architecture of the pergola was brought over to the Americas by the first migrants. They continued to evolve and become more practical as new innovations made them into the form that we see them in now: a pergola with a touch of European aristocracy and ancient Egyptian/Chinese roots. And they continue to become more popular in different landscaping and home improvement circles.