Friday, November 13, 2009

Greatest Spiral Stairs

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!

Spiral Stairs
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.
Spiral Stairs
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.Spiral Stairs

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.
Queens House Tulip Stairs These, like the Lorretto Chapel stairs, have no central support, but here they are supported by being cantalevered from the walls, with each step resting on the one below it.

Queens House Tulip Spiral Stairs 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.

Queens House Tulip Stairs Ghost 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.

Baron Empain's Heliopolis PalaceLooking ridiculously like a haunted house from Scooby Doo, is the Baron's Palace, in Heliopolis, Egypt.

Baron Empain's Palace Stairs 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.

Baron's Palace 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.

Octagon House Wisconsin This next site is close to my heart, being both a location of fantastic spiral stairs, an Octagon house, and located in Wisconsin, near where my grandparents once lived.

Octagon House Wisconsin 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.
Octagon Roosevelt Island
Octagon Roosevelt Island
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."
Octagon Roosevelt Island
Seen above during its years as as hospital, below is what it, and its amazing stairs, looked like during those deserted middle years.
Octagon Roosevelt Island
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.
Octagon Roosevelt Island
Octagon Roosevelt Island

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!

The Mechanics Institute Library, San FranciscoThe Mechanics Institute Library, San Francisco

Museum do Pobo Galego, Spain.
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.

Contarini del Bovolo, VeniceContarini del Bovolo, Venice

The Great Fire Monument, London
The Great Fire Monument, London The Great Fire Monument, London

Cedar Creek treehouse Spiral StaircaseCedar Creek treehouse Spiral StaircaseCedar Creek Treehouse Spiral Staircase, Washington.

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.

House in Lauzerte, FranceSquare Spiral Stairs, in a House in Lauzerte, France

Double-helix staircase Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley, France. Double-helix staircase Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley, France.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.

The Royal Chateau de Blois
The Royal Chateau de BloisRoyal Château de Blois also in the Loire Valley, France

Quinta de Regaleira Quinta de Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal Written about on the Atlas here.

The chimney of the old Bóbila Almirall in Terrassa, Australia. The world's tallest chimney with a spiral staircase.
The chimney of the old Bóbila Almirall in Terrassa, Australia. The world's tallest chimney with a spiral staircase. The chimney of the old Bóbila Almirall in Terrassa, Australia. The world's tallest chimney with a spiral staircase.

palazzo barberini stairsPalazzo Barberini, Rome, Italy

Spiral Stairs carved out of a Kauri Tree at the Ancient Kauri Museum, New Zealand Spiral Stairs carved out of a Kauri Tree at the Ancient Kauri Museum, New Zealand

Melk Abbey. Melk, Austria. Because I couldn't resist, here are a few spiral staircases in libraries, such as the one above in Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria.

Franciscan Monestary Library Lima PeruSzabo Ervin Library in Budapest, Hungary
Spiral staircases in the Franciscan Monestary Library in Lima, Peru and the Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest, Hungary respectively.

Moaning Cavern stairway, CaliforniaA scary looking staircase in the Moaning Cavern stairway, California

De Oude Kerk, MokumAnother scary looking set in De Oude Kerk, Mokum, aka the Old Church in Mokum, Netherlands

spiral staircase at the abandoned Western State HospitalAwesome looking spiral staircase at the abandoned Western State Hospital, Washington.

Great Mosque of Samarra
Great Mosque of SamarraAnd finally to end it, one of the oldest forms of spiral stairs the Ziggurat, in this case the Great Mosque of Samarra.


  1. Oh this was wonderful! Thank you so much for doing this!

  2. Oh!!! I love these photos I think that they are spectacular, I would like to have one in my house as a painting!!

  3. I find the Loretto chapel's staircase quite mysterious as well. With or without the legend, I still find it odd since wood carving skills of such magnitude were impossible during that time.

    By the way, I love the way how the Tulip staircase's railings seem to continue towards the ceiling's glass window. The blue railings also complement the light coming from the mentioned window.

  4. Hello one ! this is your nice collection into the whole world.

    I think that you are uploads more nice picture of Stair in your blog.


  5. spiral stairs are a classic representation of elegance and eccentricity. I love how this kinf of stairs look like. it's simply astounding.

  6. these are some amazing pictures. They really show off all the different uses and looks of a Spiral Staircase. I just got one for my home and have been loving it!


Thanks for comments