12 Most Famous Stairs

12. The stairs of the House of Slaves


Slave exports from Goree Island off the coast of Senegal began about 1670. Despite its notoriety as the final exit point of the slaves from Africa, only an estimated 26,000 of the 12 million slaves that were abducted from Africa are thought to have passed through the island. The surviving House of Slaves on Goree was built by the Dutch in 1776, by which time the slave-trade from Africa was finally winding down. It was on the stairs of this house that the last sales in Africa took place. The house was the home of a wealthy trader (dealing with gold and ivory) of mixed descent, Signare Anna Colas Pépin.


11. Nu descendant un escalier n° 2


A famed mixture of Cubism and Futurism, 1912 painting by Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, was almost renamed by the sensitivities of the time. Although the depiction is neither explicit nor mundane (Duchamp used the notion of superimposing images), jurists at the Salon des Indépendants asked him to rename the painting. Duchamp chose the alternative: he voluntarily withdrew the painting. He submitted it a year later to Armory Show in New York, where it was again satirized against. However, it is now considered one of the best artworks of the age.


10. The Spiral Stairs of Round Tower


Connected to the Trinity Church in the old Latin quarter of Copenhagen is the Round Tower, commissioned by King Christian IV of Denmark in 1637 as an observatory. The tower, which is the oldest functioning observatory in Europe, has an unique architectural feat: a 209m long spiral walkway that winds 7.5 turns around the hollow core of the tower forming the only connection between the individual parts of the building complex. In 1716, the visiting Russian Tsar Peter the Great, on horseback, drove the horse carriage with his Empress Katharina inside up the rump to the top. In 1902, his footsteps were followed by a Beaufort car, which became the first motorised vehicle to ascend this tower.


9. Penrose Stairs


Best exemplified by sketches of M.C.Escher (most notable of which is Ascending and Descending, above), the Penrose Stairs are a visual paradox created by a two-dimensional figure in three dimensions  by distorting perspective. Envisioned by Lionel Penrose and his son Roger Penrose, it is a further variation on the Penrose triangle. It is a two-dimensional depiction of a staircase in which the stairs make four 90-degree turns as they ascend or descend yet form a continuous loop, so that a person (in Escher’s case above, monks) could climb them forever and never get any higher.


8. The Spanish Steps


The Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) is the longest and widest staircase in Europe. The grand 138-stepped stairway connects the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Holy See (it still occupies the same spot in Palazzo Monaldeschi) to the church, Trinità dei Monti, which was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France. The project was envisioned since the 1580s, but debates over the style and execution (the proposed French plan once included an equestrian monument to Louis XIV) delayed the construction. Finally, compromise between a Bourbon fleur-de-lys and Papal Crown was reach and it was finally constructed in 1723. Today, in Christmas time, a crib is displayed on the first landing of the staircase, a tradition dating back to the 19th century.


7. Double Spiral of Chateau Chambord


In Loire Valley lies the Chateau of Chambord, one of the most romantic castles ever built. It was begun by Francois I in 1519 (and would not be completed until 1547) but the archives offer no information as to the name of the architect. Some said an Italian Domenico da Cartona designed the building, but Leonardo da Vinci himself was consulted over its plans, and left his indelible mark on at least one of the chateau’s 13 grand staircases. The famed spiral staircase has two separate flights (with no connection between them) with numerous openings on the arms of the corridors. Leonardo’s notebooks show that he conceived a staircase comprised of not two but four distinct superimposed flights of stairs. Although it was devised for the king to have a better defense and escape means, the staircase was only used to prevent the king’s several mistresses from seeing one other.  


6. The Spiral Stairs of Vatican Museum


Even great museums like Musei Vaticani start with one single art work-that of the Trojan priest Laocoon, unearthed in 1506. On Michelangelo’s recommendation, Pope Julius II purchased it and put it on public display at the Vatican. The pope also founded the museums, which attract four million people annually. When these people exit, they exit via a huge spiral staircase, designed by Bramante, and emblazoned with papal crests and tiaras. Throughout the 17th century, Bramante’s design was copied and expanded upon extensive, but the original is a staircase that even the people who haven’t been to the Vatican recognize-because it featured prominently on covers of many mathematic textbooks, like one above.


5. Tulip Staircase

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The elegant spiral staircase at the Queen’s House of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England is world-famous. In 1966, it was made even more famous by a photograph. Rev. Ralph Hardy, a retired clergyman from White Rock, British Columbia, took a photograph of the stairs. However, upon development, he found a shrouded figure climbing the stairs. The figure, although hold the railing with both hands, is ethereal. Experts, including those from Kodak, who examined the original negative concluded that it had not been tampered with. The Queen’s House custodians say that unexplained figures have been sometimes seen near the staircase, and that unexplained footsteps have also been heard.


4. Copán Hieroglyphic Staircase


A major Mayan civilization thrived in Copán on Honduras-Guatemalan border from the 5th to the 9th centuries. In Copán, we find the longest hieroglyphic inscriptions left from the Maya era; the inscription on the stairs of the west side of Temple 26, details the history of Copan’s ruling dynasty:  births, accessions, important rituals, achievements, parentage statements, and deaths. When exactly the stairs were built is still a mystery, but the inscriptions tell us that the 13th King of Copán built the Hieroglyphic Stairway to honor his predecessor and to compensate for burying Stela 63, and the Papagayo step, the previous record the dynastic history. The 15th King, whose stela is found at the foot of the stairway, doubled the length and historical content of the stairway inscription, created the balustrades that framed it, and dedicated Temple 26.


3. Wienergraben Stairs of Death


Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp was a large group of Nazi concentration camps in Upper Austria, twelve miles east of the city of Linz. Prisoners sent to Mauthausen were forced to work at its Wiener-Graben granite quarry, and because of the number of people needed for quarry works, the living conditions were lower even compared to other Nazi concentration camps. Prisoners were forced to climb the 186 steps of the Wiener Graben with large blocks of granite on their backs. Often the blocks would fall, crushing limbs and bodies of those following. The SS guards would force prisoners – exhausted from hours of hard labour without sufficient food and water – to race up the stairs carrying blocks of stone. Those who survived the ordeal would often be placed in a line-up at the edge of a cliff known as “The Parachute Wall” (German: Fallschirmspringerwand). At gun-point each prisoner would have the option of being shot, or to push the prisoner in front of them off of the cliff.


2. Mysterious Stairs of the Loretto Chapel


When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters concluded a staircase to the loft would be impossible given with the interior space of the small Chapel. Legend says that the sisters of the Chapel made a plea to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. The stairway’s carpenter, who didn’t even answer to an ad that ran in the local newspaper, built a structure that has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Also, the staircase was built without nails-only wooden pegs.


1. Grand Staircase of White House


The State Floor (Entrance Hall) and the Second Floor of the White House is connected by the Grand Staircase. The original architect James Hoban envisioned two main staircases in the entrance hall, but the original ceremonial staircase at the west end of the Cross Hall was removed under Teddy Roosevelt. During the Truman White House renovation, the position of the Grand Staircase was a major headache, but an unanimous decision was reached with the current design. The staircase’s interior walls have the seals of the original 13 states, while above, it has a bas-relief American eagle. A stair carpet in a shade of red has been used since the days of Teddy Roosevelt.


Bonus: The Thirty-Nine Steps


In the original novel by John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps are the actual steps that lead to the shore-side house a German spy organization, the Black Stone, uses for their meetings. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 adapation gave the spy organization the name “The 39 Steps” but its significance was not explanied.  

2 Responses to “12 Most Famous Stairs”
  1. signare says:

    Your information of “Slave Housse” it’s not exacte. The house do not containt slave; its legendary this is one business touristique.

    It’s the staire of Miss Anna Colas Pépin, one Signare.

    See the website “SIGNARE.COM

    Thank you

  2. Ruthie Ben-Mayor says:

    Your info on the Loretto Chapel is also incorrect. Please see this link: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/loretto.asp

    I’ve visited the chapel (and was thus thrilled to see it on your website) and they do call it “miraculous” there, but you’ve been misled (and you misleed) as to the “facts”.

    That aside, I love your website, which I just discovered (although my discovery of that one inaccuracy does cast a pall on its other information as far as I’m concerned, and I hope you’ll rectify it quickly).

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