Dovecotes, or culverhouses (English), doocots (Scots), and columbaria (Latin), are structures intended to house pigeons or doves. These buildings served as apartment blocks for hundreds of pigeons where pigeons were kept for a variety of purposes but in the main as a source of food. In some cultures, particularly Medieval Europe, the possession of a dovecote was a symbol of status and power and was consequently regulated by law. Only nobles had this special privilege, known as droit de colombier. Lords often showcased their right to keep doves by placing dovecotes in highly visible positions on their estates, such as close to approaching roads or next to the main entrance or gatehouse to their residences.
In some cultures, particularly Medieval Europe, the possession of a dovecote was a symbol of status and power
Dovecotes can be constructed of virtually any material (although early dovecotes were constructed exclusively of stone) and can be free-standing structures or provided as part of an existing structure or as a ‘lean-to’ addition. In the medieval period, dovecots were usually large, circular structures built of stone and topped with pointed roofs. Also, even if they were not so common there were timber-framed dovecotes that are rectangular, square, or even polygonal in shape and others with domed roofs. The interior walls of the dovecotes were hollowed out into pigeonholes, each of which could accommodate a pair of pigeons. The number of holes inside was determined by the surface area of the owner’s farming property. It was usually two pigeonholes for every hectare.
The oldest dovecotes are thought to have been the fortress-like dovecotes of Upper Egypt and the domed dovecotes of Iran. In these regions, the droppings were used by farmers for fertilization. Pigeon droppings were also used for leather tanning and making gunpowder.