Spiral staircases have long been one of the world’s architectural wonders. The ability to quickly ascend the levels of a building using a structure that only takes up a small amount of floor space is one of mankind’s great design ideas. And that’s before you consider the beautiful views that can be seen when you look down from the top of a spiral staircase, and the mystical patterns that are formed by the stair parts as they wind their way up to the rafters.
Here we’ll take a look at some of the greatest and more unusual spiral staircases around the world.
The earliest recorded spiral staircase was built in around 480BC in the ancient Greek settlement of Selinus, located on the island of Sicily, now part of Italy. However, it wasn’t until the Roman Empire swept across Europe that their popularity grew.
Spiral staircases were traditionally built so the steps went clockwise from the ascender’s point of view. This was to put attacking swordsmen (who would usually be carrying their sword in their right hand) at a disadvantage compared to the person coming at them from the top, who would have both a better field of vision and a greater angle of attack.
At first glance, a spiral staircase is a complex creation, with all those stair parts that have to be in the right place but it’s simpler than you may think. That’s because the whole thing tends to be built around one central newel acting as the anchor, with the actual staircase winding around it like a spiral.
But wait! There are some spiral staircases with no newel! Strictly speaking these aren’t actually spiral staircases, not in the scientific sense anyway. They’re actually helical and such is their formation that it’s actually possible to have two separate staircases in the same vertical space – one for going up and one for going down, such as that found in the Chateau de Chambord in France.
Chateau de Chambord in France
One of the world’s most unusual spiral staircases is the so-called “Miracle Stair” inside the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This staircase features no newel and gets its name from the way it seemingly rises up unsupported. But despite this apparent lack of important stair parts, the staircase’s ability to stand would appear to be the result of some well-concealed trickery. The staircase’s mystique was further garnered by the fact the identity of the carpenter who built it was unknown for over a century until a newspaper obituary notice from 1895 was discovered, naming Frenchman Francois-Jean Rochas as the builder.
There can be no doubting the mystique and beauty of spiral staircases and with such a storied history behind them, it’s a safe bet we’re going to be seeing them for a long time to come.