What is the Difference Between Wedding Arches, Chuppahs, Mandaps, Canopies, Gazebos, and Altars?

The spot where you publicly declare your love and commitment to your partner on your big day is kind of a big deal. In your grandparents day, most wedding ceremonies were conducted in churches, so there were few vow area choices to make apart from placing a few flowers at the altar.

Nowadays, many wedding ceremonies are conducted outdoors under some type of arch, chuppah, canopy, arbor, or structure, usually decorated to complement the wedding style, decor, and colors.

Though different types of wedding arches have both cultural and religious significance (representing protection, divine presence, and the home, for example), couples embrace the curve for aesthetic and décor purposes, too. A beautiful arbor can anchor and define an outdoor ceremony, serve as a photo backdrop, or bring new meaning to your wedding celebration. With the addition of fabrics, flowers, and various builds, arches can become part of your own theme, not to mention a gorgeous way to bring a bold new look to the end of your aisle.

What’s the difference between these structures?

The Arch

The arch itself is a symbol of the future home the bride and groom will start their family in. Arch meaning in many cultures also suggests initiation and ceremonies of renewal. Walking through an archway represents the sloughing off of the old and moving into a new phase of life. Arches are often constructed simply with three posts and the top post either straight or curved. They are commonly built of wrought iron or wood lattice, with decoration including flowers, lights or fabric.

The Chuppah

Literally, chuppah means “blanket,” or “protection” for the couple, much like a sturdy structure. It consists of a cloth, sometimes a prayer shawl or other significant piece of fabric stretched out over four poles. A traditional chuppah is held by four people who have special meaning to the couple getting married. Some larger weddings use a chuppah that has self-supporting poles. This allows more people to join the couple under the chuppah. Some families have heirloom chuppahs that they pass from generation to generation.

The Mandap

In a Hindi ceremony, the four posts represent the four mantras and goals of a fulfilled life. Other South Asian cultures such as Sikh and Punjabi also use Mandaps; some have a groom processional around the structure, others gather their families inside the mandap before the vows.

The Arbor

Typically the arbor is an arch-shaped structure covered in vines, shells, branches, twigs, flowers or fabric and is sometimes called a “wedding arch.” An arbor typically incorporates a trellis, with the design often being arched, to create a “tunnel” for plants to cover.

The Canopy

The four post canopy, an obvious adaptation of the Chuppah, is traditionally covered by either a semi-sheer white or ivory fabric, and then accented with colored swags and/or tiebacks.

The Gazebo

A gazebo is generally a permanent or semi-permanent structure that can be decorated and used as the ceremony site, usually at one of the frequently arched sides.

Geometric Structures

Another growing trend for a ceremony backdrop is a geometric shape that can be seen in circles, triangles, etc. Del Cabo Weddings has created a great number of these, check our inspiration page.

You will discover that a few of these terms are often used interchangeably, but whether you want a Chuppah, Arbor or Arch for your ceremony there are many ways to make it your own. Elegant, rustic, modern or ethereal; let your personality shine through by adding decor and/or your favorite flowers that are meaningful to you and your fiancee.

Remember to harmonize with your venue, theme and color palette. If in doubt or if you need ideas, talk to your wedding designer for some creative input, if they are also custom fabricators they can build you a bespoke structure that will be exactly what you want. And it doesn’t get more YOU than that!


Dennis Berti



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