Recently the Loretto Chapel was entered into the Atlas. The chapel is known for a very cool looking set of spiral stairs built in 1877 by a mysterious stranger. With no central support the stairs are said by the sisters of Loretto Chapel to be miraculous in construction. While there are those who beg to differ about the miraculousness of the stairs, no can deny that the stairs look, well, really cool!
In the past I have admitted a somewhat obsessive love of libraries and looking at the Loretto stairs made me realize I have a bit of a thing for spiral staircases as well. Like secret passageways and hidden doors there is something intriguing, adventurous even, about a spiral staircase. The narrow twists, and slight dizzy feeling as you ascend, it always seems as if something fantastical awaits you at the top, or alternatively, something dark and ominous at the bottom. Either way, a spiral staircase calls to you saying "find out... if you dare."
So without further ado the Atlas Obscura presents to you the most intriguing, fantastical, dizzying spiral staircases from around the world. First the Vatican Museum!
The Vatican Museums spiral staircase is one of the most photographed in the world, and certainty one of the most beautiful. Designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932, the broad steps are somewhere between a ramp and a staircase.
As you may be able to see more clearly here, the stairs are actually two separate helixes, one leading up and the other leading down, that twist together in a double helix formation. Little did the Vatican Museum know in 1932 that this formation would come to represent life itself, with the discovery of the double helical DNA strand.
Many more spiral staircases after the jump... just try not to get dizzy.
Another set of very famous spiral stairs are the "Tulip Stairs" in the Queen's House, in Greenwich, England.
Built in 1635 and looking distinctly eye-like, these were the first geometric self-supporting spiral staircase in Britain. Though known as the Tulip stairs, they would be better called the fleurs-de-lis stairs, as that is the symbol that is repeated (and oft mistaken for a tulip) in the wrought-iron balustrade the runs up the stairs. It is the symbol of the French born Queen Henrietta Maria's Bourbon family.
Of course, the stairs have more to them then just their beauty and history. They also have a famous ghost.
In 1966 a Reverand visiting the Queen's House took this picture, and when he developed it, saw the shrouded image above. Kodak examined the film and said it had not been tampered with, and the Rev. and his wife swore that no one was on the off-limits stairs when they took the picture. It is unclear who the ghost might be, though apparently in the 1600s a maid fell (or jumped) to her death from the stairs, making her a likely candidate to claim the honor.
Looking ridiculously like a haunted house from Scooby Doo, is the Baron's Palace, in Heliopolis, Egypt.
Within this magnificent house, built for the Belgian industrialist Baron Empain, is a set of beautiful wooden spiral stairs that weave through the center of the house. One of the best myths about the house -- along with the usual fare of devil worshipers, ghosts, and secret tunnels -- is that the entire house was built on a rotating base which allowed the Baron to sit in the center and turn the house to suit his needs. Empain was a fantastic engineer, so I still hold out hope that this is true.
As can be seen in this picture, the house was not well taken care of, was used for years by drug dealers and was in serious need of preservation. Happily, in 2005 Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt's First Lady undertook a restoration campaign for the house, which was completed in 2007.
This 1854 octagonal house is made all the more amazing, by its dizzying spiral staircase. Octagon Houses have an amazing history and connection to Phrenology, utopian settlers, Victorian health reform, and all sorts of other cool stuff. I previously wrote about a different NY octagon house and the history of octagon houses here.
Because octagons and spiral stairs go together like white and rice, here is yet another, newer, but still amazing looking spiral staircase in an octagon, this time on Roosevelt Island in New York.
Another building with a great history, this particular Octagon was built in 1841 and was once an insane asylum, before being abandoned, and eventually renovated.
Roosevelt Island is one of those hidden pockets, in the busy city that is still strange, surprising, and filled with bits and pieces of amazing history. While there is more to tell about the island then can be fit here, suffice to say, over the years it served as a prison, quarantine island, gangsters paradise and more. Throughout all this the Octagon remained as did its amazing "flying stairs."
Today, after a thorough renovation, the building serves as a community center and the stairs, while perhaps a little "new" for my antiquarian tastes, are still really quite amazing looking.
Partially because I am lazy, and partially because I want to share many more awesome spiral stairs before boring you to death, from here on out the words will be less, and only one or two pictures per staircase. In other words: Sit back and enjoy the flights!
Unique triple helix spiral staircase in the Museum do Pobo Galego, Spain. Technically, there is no such thing as a spiral staircase -- spirals are by their nature flat -- and all "spiral" stairs, are actually helical stairs.
One can rent a tree house 50 feet above the ground on this property and have full access to the amazing "stairway to heaven" and the accompanying observatory.
Amazing double-helix staircase in the Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley, France. The two helixes ascend three floors and never meet. In the center is an open air shaft that lets in light. Some believe Leonardo da Vinci designed the staircase, but this is as of yet, unconfirmed.
Quinta de Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal Written about on the Atlas here.
Photo by Martin Haesemeyer
Hope you enjoyed this very incomplete collection of some of the worlds greatest spiral staircases, and if you are anything like me, you are dizzy and need to go lie down for a second.
If you have other great spiral stairs that should be in this list by all means leave a suggestion in the comments and I will periodically update the list and add the new stairs!