What is a Pergola

Pergola 101: What Is a Pergola?

Whether you have a modest backyard or wide-open acreage, nothing transforms an outdoor space like a pergola. This unique outdoor structure can provide an alfresco venue for entertaining while adding value to your home. So, what exactly is a pergola, and what makes them so distinct from other types of outdoor structures?

A pergola is an outdoor structure composed of vertical posts that support an overhead roof. One of the signature attributes of a pergola is that its roof is not solid, but rather, grid-like with perpendicular beams, rafters, and stringers. Similarly, a pergola usually does not have permanent walls.

A pergola can provide a beautiful, yet highly functional, venue for dining alfresco or entertaining guests. In this article, you will learn everything there is to know about pergolas, including their defining characteristics, where they originated, and why you should consider one for your outdoor space.

OK, So What Exactly Is a Pergola?

A pergola is an outdoor structure that can either be free-standing or attached to your home and it is designed to provide an open, airy space for enjoying some outdoor time.

Although there are no hard and fast rules for what exactly a pergola should look like or how it must be built, there are certain characteristics that set a pergola apart from other backyard structures (more on this later). Here are the basics:

  • A pergola has vertical posts, or columns, that support the roof structure (the number can vary depending on whether it is free-standing or attached to your house)
  • The roof of a pergola is typically composed of a series of beams, rafters, and stringers that run perpendicular to each other, criss-crossing over one another to create a grid-like structure
  • Because it is not solid (i.e., shingled or completely covered), a pergola’s roof is designed to provide shade but not protection from precipitation like rain or snow
  • As far as walls are concerned, a pergola may have screens or curtains on one or more sides to protect occupants from insects and the like, but nothing solid or permanent
  • A pergola can provide relief from direct sun but because it has minimalist walls and roofing that lacks shingles, do not expect it to protect against harsher elements like rain, snow, or wind

Because of its unique design, a pergola is as much about form as it is about function. It is an outdoor structure, but other than providing partial shade from direct sun, it is not intended to shelter you from the elements.

Where Does the Name ‘Pergola’ Come From?

Pergolas can be found in backyards and open expanses all over the globe. But even though they are a popular structure for enjoying outdoor spaces in today’s world, pergolas have been around for quite some time. In fact, it is believed that pergolas were used in gardens belonging to royalty and important officials in ancient Egypt – over 3,400 years ago. 

The word pergola comes from the old Latin word pergula meaning “projecting eave” and describing the overhang found on arbors and various roof structures. The first use of the word pergola in the modern sense is credited to the English writer John Evelyn, who referred to a series of outdoor columns and overhead beams as pergolas during his visit to the Medici villas in Italy during the 1640s.

The popularity of pergolas in Europe boomed thanks to a movement during the Italian Renaissance in the 17th century that saw these structures being built with premium building materials and featuring grandiose stone columns.

Today, pergolas are constructed from traditional materials like wood and stone, as well as modern materials like vinyl, fiberglass, and composites.

What’s the Difference Between a Pergola and an Arbor?

Unless you happen to be an expert in outdoor structures, the distinction between a pergola and an arbor can be difficult to make out. After all, to the untrained eye, they look very similar. However, there are key differences between a pergola and an arbor as far as their design and function. Here’s a closer look at each.

An arbor is a smaller structure that is typically placed along a path or walkway to mark its entry or exit point. Its framework typically consists of latticed sides connected by an arch overhead and climbing vines and other forms of vegetation are a common sight. You will often see an arbor with a bench positioned underneath as it can serve as a welcoming spot for relaxation underneath some shade.

In comparison, a pergola is generally larger than an arbor and designed for groups of people to gather comfortably underneath its roof. Rather than providing cover for a bench, a pergola can accommodate a full dining set if not additional furnishings such as a barbecue grill or even an outdoor kitchen. Where an arbor is often used to mark the beginning or end of a pathway, a pergola is a gathering spot unto itself.

Interested in a Pergola Near San Antonio? Let Us Help.

If you’re in the greater San Antonio area and considering a pergola for your outdoor space, then give the professionals at French’s Custom Outdoor Concepts a call. From preliminary design to final construction, we are with you every step of the way to ensure that your outdoor structure meets all of your aesthetic and functional needs.

As an award-winning builder, French’s Custom Outdoor Concepts specializes in custom projects. Outdoor structures are our specialty and whether you want a free-standing pergola or one that attaches to your home to cover a patio area, we have the experience and expertise to design and build the pergola of your dreams.


When it comes to beautifying an outdoor space while transforming it into a welcoming spot for entertaining, nothing does the job like a pergola. Its open structure creates an inviting atmosphere for gathering with others and enjoying some outdoor time.

Our outdoor structure specialists at French’s Custom Outdoor Concepts are ready to help you with your pergola project. We’ll take your ideas and turn them into a thoughtfully designed plan and then turn your dream into reality with impeccable craftsmanship and dedicated customer service. Ready to take the next step? Then give us a call and let’s get building.