An umbrella is a portable, hand-held sunshade used for protection from rain or strong sunlight. The umbrella consists of fabric or plastic covering a hinged rib around a central pillar. The ribbed allows the umbrella to open and close so that it can be carried easily when not in use.
Umbrellas were found in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India to protect important people from the sun. They are usually large and held by the wearer, to whom they are a symbol of honor and authority. The ancient Greeks introduced umbrellas to Europe as a sunshade, and the Romans used umbrellas to keep out the rain. The use of the umbrella disappeared in Medieval Europe, but by the late 16th century it had reappeared in Italy, where it was seen as a symbol of popes and clergy. By the 17th century, the use of umbrellas had spread to France, and by the 18th century they were common throughout Europe.
A small, delicate umbrella for shading from the sun called a parasol was a standard element of fashionable women's outdoor clothing in the 18th and 19th centuries. European men began carrying umbrellas in the middle of the 19th century. In the 1850s, the traditional rattan umbrella was replaced by modern umbrellas with light but strong steel frames. Men's umbrellas are generally black, but since the 20th century, both men's and women's umbrellas have been made in a variety of bright and colorful patterns. In modern times, one can find oversized umbrellas on beaches and other sunny places to protect crowds from the sun.