Have you ever felt like someone was watching you? Maybe you’re wandering around the streets of New York City, enjoying a beautiful day looking at the many beautiful examples of architecture all around you. But you just can’t shake the feeling that there are eyes following you wherever you go.

Maybe that’s because there are…if there are gargoyles around! If you look up, you might be able to spot some intriguing stone creatures perched atop the roofs of old buildings. You may be WONDERing what these creatures are and why they’re there.

Gargoyles are carved stone creatures known as grotesques. Often made of granite, they serve an important purpose in architecture. Other than providing interesting decoration for buildings, they contain spouts that direct water away from the sides of buildings.

Like modern gutter systems you might see on houses or newer buildings, gargoyles prevent rainwater from running down stone walls, eroding the mortar that holds a building together. Architects often designed buildings with multiple gargoyles to direct the flow of rainwater.

Many gargoyles feature troughs cut into their backs to catch water. The water that’s caught is usually directed out of the open mouth of the creature. Gargoyles usually have an odd, elongated shape, because their length determines how far from the building’s walls the rainwater is deposited.

The word gargoyle comes from the French word gargouille, which means “throat” or “gullet.” This probably comes from the gurgling sound of the water as it passes through the gargoyle and out its mouth. Some legends hold that gargoyles also protect against harmful spirits.

Gargoyles have been used for hundreds of years. Ancient Egyptians usually created gargoyles in the shape of a lion’s head. Other popular animal gargoyles were dogs, wolves, eagles, snakes, goats and monkeys.

Over the years, many other types of creatures have been used as gargoyles. For example, some gargoyles are humans, such as monks, while others are combinations of humans and animals. Unusual animal combinations are sometimes called chimeras. Some popular chimeras include griffins, centaurs, harpies and mermaids.

Some of the most famous gargoyles in the word sit atop cathedrals, such as Notre Dame in Paris. Some experts believe they were popular on churches because of the widespread belief that they protected against evil spirits.

After the eighteenth century, gargoyles became much less common, as more modern drainpipes were developed. Occasionally, some buildings would still be built with gargoyles, but they often became more decorative than functional.

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  1. Hi Wonderopolis!

    We loved the wonder of the day today! Gargoyles are a little creepy, but very interesting. We were wondering about Mermaids. Some of us wondered if they really exist. Others of us think it may be a legend. Could your Wonder experts help solve this debate? Thank you very much! Have a great day!

    Sincerely,

    Mrs.Reasor’s 4th Grade Class
    Knoxville, TN

    • Hi there, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Reasor’s Class! We think you’ve got a good point– gargoyles can be a bit strange at times… they are always watching us! However, they’ve got a great view from up top!

      We are so glad you shared your aquatic Wonder with us– mermaids are very cool creatures to Wonder about! Thanks for sharing your idea! We hope you have a SUPER weekend! :)

  2. I think today’s wonder was phenomenal. I have always been interested in them but never knew that they were used like gutters. I always thought they were just there for show. but I did know what a chimera is and that gargoyles were used to ward off evil spirits. I thought that the video was hilarious.

    I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about treasure chests and their history.

    • Cool, Colin! We are very happy to Wonder about gargoyles with you today! There is a lot of history behind gargoyles and the spirits they scare away. We Wonder if we can put a gargoyle on top of our house here at Wonderopolis…? :)

    • Thanks for sharing your comment, Wonder Friends in Ms. Bayko’s class! Some of our Wonder Friends have been FROZEN like a statue in honor of today’s Wonder! :)

      Thanks for sharing your guess for tomorrow’s Wonder… we can’t wait to find out what it could be!! :)

  3. I learned many interesting things about gargoyles. The first thing I learned about gargoyles is that Gargoyle in French it means throat. I also learned that gargoyles are mainly used to direct water away from the sides of buildings. The last thing I learned is that they use other things to direct water away from the sides of buildings such as griffins, harpies, centaurs, and mermaids. I obviously learned many things about gargoyles.

    • You did a SUPER job of summarizing all the great things you learned from today’s Wonder, Tyler! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today– we Wonder if you have seen a gargoyle on top of any building? :)

  4. Dear wonderopolis,
    Today’s wonder is very interesting. I never thought about what gargoyles were up until now. I’ve learned some great things today.

    • Hey there, Josh! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today- we’re so glad you learned something new… and had fun, too! We’re glad you’re at Wonderopolis today! :)

    • Ooh, what a SUPER guess for tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day®, Wonder Friends in Mrs. K’s Class! We’ll see you soon! :)

  5. I have a gargoyle on my roof and I walked under it during a rainstorm! Wrong choice. And sometimes it scares me -chills-

    Love,
    Makayla

    • WOW, we’re glad nothing happened, Makayla! How cool that you have your own gargoyle on your house– we think that’s pretty awesome! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

    • Thanks so much, Larune! We’re glad you enjoy WONDERing with us– it’s so much to learn something new with you! :)

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Jake! Hornets don’t like being disturbed, and they might feel threatened when you approach their nest. It’s best to stay away, or you might have to deal with a bee sting!

      Wonder #778– Why Do Bees Sting? :)

    • What super guesses from our Wonder Friends in Mrs. H’s Class! Thanks for WONDERing with us… we’ll see you tomorrow! :)

    • WOW, that’s cool, Gina M! We’re glad to hear that you can see statues of different kinds in your neighborhood! We Wonder what kind of statue you’d like to put in front of your house? :)

  6. Our class enjoyed today’s wonder. We learned about how purposeful gargoyles are, and what they are made of. We used the wonder words to add to our word books. We were left with quite a few questions, like how is a gargoyle made, and where might we find a gargoyle close to us. A few of our students thought of downtown, and hopefully they will be able to check this weekend first hand or ask their parents about any gargoyles downtown. We had a great discussion about this wonder, and look forward to more wonders.

    A side note for you. We brought math into today’s wonder by predicting when will the 800th wonder be (Tuesday) and if we would see the 900th wonder before the end of the school year. We decided we would, which leads to more math. :)

    Thanks again,

    Mrs. Bogaert’s Grade 3/4 class

    • Hooray, our Wonder Friends in Mrs. Bogaert’s Grade 3/4 Class are here today! What a fantastic Friday to share with friends! :)

      We are very proud of all the WONDERing you have been doing on your own… gargoyles are very fun subjects to think about! We hope you spot some downtown and record it in your word books!

      Thanks for counting our Wonders with us– we can’t wait until we reach 1,000 Wonders! You are all SUPER math experts– keep up the great work! :)

    • Hi, Macy! We’re glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® and shared your feelings about gargoyles! We know some of them can look a little scary, but we hope you enjoyed learning about them as much as we did! We thought it was really neat to learn that gargoyles help direct water away from buildings! :-)

    • Great questions, Wilber! We can’t take credit for the Wonder video, but we learned that the film was produced with iStopMotion! :)

  7. Hi wonderopolis!!! I had no clue that was why we have gargoyles! I agree that they look creepy, my neighbor has gargoyles on her/his porch, they aren’t as big as any in NYC, but thay are still creepy. :P

    • Hi there, Leah! They have an interesting look– that’s for sure! But they also serve a purpose and we’re glad you learned about it today! :)

  8. I always wondered what a gargoyle was for and I never knew they were for the rain water.

    We think tomorrow’s wonder is a:
    – a special kind of stone
    – a crystal
    – a shell of some kind
    – a jewel
    – clay
    – a diamond stone
    – an oyster

    • Hi there, Wonder Friends in Ms. TenBrook’s Class! We are so impressed with all your SUPER guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder! Thanks for sharing all that you learned at Wonderopolis today! :)

  9. Hey wonderopolis today’s wonder was really fascinating. I wonder….. what will happen for tomorrow’s Wonder. By the way my brother was asking me “what happens when a gargoyle falls off a building” Thanks Wonderopolis!!!!

    • We’re so happy that you are WONDERing about gargoyles with us, Lily! We know that gargoyles are sturdy statues, so it takes a very long time for them to crumble! :)

  10. Hey wonderopolis your wonders have always made me wonder WHEN WILL YOU HAVE COMMON SENSE because people don’t really want to read. Your website is BORING.

    • Hi there, Wonder Friend Boo! We’re sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy Wonderopolis today, but we appreciate and respect your comment. :)

  11. I think that today’s wonder was really cool! I like gargoyles. They are cool to look at. Thank you for today’s wonder! :)

  12. Hi wonderopolis! We are 5th graders from CA. We love wonderoplis, and we thought this wonder was interesting. The gargoyles are very hard to imagine. And yet they seem so real. We have a suggestion for tomorrow’s wonder. Are mermaids real? Please try to put this as a wonder soon.

    Thank you very much

    • Hi there, Wonder Friends Bannie and Prashansa! We are so excited to hear that you’ve been WONDERing about gargoyles with us– they are so glad that you’ve learned something new! We hope have a SUPER day, Wonder Friends in 5th grade! :)

  13. Wow our girl scouts troop in San Ramon CA love the wonders we look at one every time we meet!! WONDEROPOLIS ROCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We’re so glad you can Wonder about them with us, Kathy! It’s okay if you haven’t seen them up close and personal… we can still have a great time WONDERing about those statues way up high! Thanks for your super comment! :)

  14. Hi wonderopolis I was wondering how the world started? Who was the first person and who invented wonderopolis. Thank You :-P :-P :-P :-P :-P :-P :-P :-P :-P

  15. This wonder was really fascinating. What I learned was that the word gargoyles came from a french meaning. Also I did not know that gargoyles had another name. Do you know why they built the statues of gargoyles? I will probably use this new knowledge when I write about gargoyles in the future. Using my background knowledge I knew that gargoyles were used to scare evil spirits away. I learned a couple of new words: grotesques and gargouille.

    I think that tomorrow’s (12/14) wonder will be about a game that uses really small pieces because some games use really small pieces and are really addicting. :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Trisha! We are glad you’re WONDERing on your own about the world! Wonderopolis began two years ago– we celebrated our birthday on October 4, 2012! We are part of an organization called the National Center for Family Literacy– it’s a place to learn, Wonder and use your imagination! Thanks for asking! :)

  16. I think a Gargoyle is a statue that looks over everyone.
    One of my friends passed one of those gargoyle and she said if you look in its eyes it follows you. That gave me goose bumps.

    • Hi there, Laila S! We’re glad you’re WONDERing with us today! Gargoyles are interesting to Wonder about, and they can look kind of creepy from time to time, since it seems they are watching us. However, we Wonder if you learned anything from our Wonder about gargoyles? :)

    • WOOHOO, we’re so happy that you learned so much about gargoyles today, Keelan! Thanks for sharing your comment with us! :)

  17. I feel like everything is watching me now !!! That is sooooooooooooo aaaaaaaammmmmmaaaaazzzzziiiinnnngggg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • YIKES, we hope you don’t have any gargoyles hovering around you, Sophia! We’re so happy you liked our Wonder and learned something new! WOHOO! :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Keithrenz! Thanks for sharing your comment and saying hello- we’re so glad you’re WONDERing with us today! :)

  18. Hi Well we think that video was creepy. My students were scared but I think it was great. Thanks a lot for showing us that video Wonderopolis. :)

    • Hey there, Wonder Friend Kaitlyn! We’re sorry to hear that this Wonder video was spooky, but we’re glad you shared your comment today and you have learned something new about gargoyles! What fun it is to Wonder! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a gargoyle?
  • Why do buildings have gargoyles?
  • What is a chimera?

Wonder Gallery

GargoyleVimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to dive deeper into the world of gargoyles? Check out stone carver Walter S. Arnold’s website to see pictures of how he created the Indiana State Museum Gargoyle.

Do you think you could ever sculpt a gargoyle out of stone? If you use your imagination, you might not have to. What if you could Grow Your Own Gargoyle? Have fun reading this neat story online!

Want to see more gargoyles? Jump online to check out The Monster Walks, a series of virtual tours of the many gargoyles to be found in and around New York City!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Wonderworld student activity, children design a theme park devoted to great feats of architecture and engineering.

Wonder What’s Next?

Pry open tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day for a precious jewel!

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