5 World Famous Staircases

From ancient architecture to modern marvels, there are some truly unique staircase designs to admire around the world. 

1. Loretto Chapel Staircase, Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA)

This ornate spiral staircase holds importance as both an incredible work of carpentry and a historic mystery. The chapel stairs are regarded as a miracle by the Sisters of Loretto because of it was built without nails or a center support and rises twenty feet into the air to reach the choir loft. Another perplexity comes from the wood with which the staircase is constructed. The type of wood can not be found anywhere in the arid region of the southwest where it was built.

With 33 steps representing the age Jesus reached before his crucifixion, the mystery of the Loretto Chapel staircase has never been solved. The identity of its builder remains unknown as is the question of how he found the lumber since, according to oddee.com, “there were no reports of anyone seeing lumber delivered or even seeing the man come and go while the construction was being done.” Some historians, however, claim that much of the tale is simply folklore. 

2. Tiled Steps, San Francisco (USA)

San Francisco’s Tiled Steps on 16th Avenue hold the title of World’s longest mosaic staircase. A mosaic depiction of the ocean and various sea life, including fishes, jellyfish and starfish, cascade down the steps. With 163 steps stretching 82 feet high, the staircase was designed by Irish ceramicist Aileen Barr and mosaic artist Colette Crutcher. The Tiled Steps are a relatively new, unveiled in 2005. They contain 2000 handmade tiles, 75,000 fragments of tile, mirror and stained glass.

3. Umschreibung, Munich (Germany)

Probably the world’s coolest outdoor spiral staircase, Umschreibung is an architectural masterpiece at the KPMGBuilding in Munich. Composed of steel and reaching 30 feet tall, the staircase forms a double-helix which ascends up and back around without leading to a destination. Umschreibung means “rewriting,” and the piece was designed by Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.

4. Vatican Museum’s Spiral Staircase, Rome (Italy)

Another set of famous spiral stairs, the Vatican museum’s spiral staircase was commissioned by Pope Pius XI in the late 1920s. Giuseppe Momo created the ramp of steps in two distinct helixes—one leading up and the other down. Interestingly, its shape resembles DNA which was not discovered until decades later in the century. A bronze sculptural railing lines the steps. 

5. Chand Baori Stepwell, Rajasthan (India)

The most ancient landmark on this list, the Chand Baori stepwell contains 3,500 steps descending 13 stories. Building in the 8th and 9th centuries, these steps find their way down into the ground to a pool of water. Their mesmerizing geometric pattern ensured that the townspeople of Rajput could draw water throughout the year despite the arid region of eastern Rajasthan, India which they called home. The drop from top to bottom of about 20 meters also makes the bottom of the well an average of 5 to 6 degrees cooler. One of the four walls is actually a carved out temple with pavilions, sculptures, rooms for the royal family and even a performing arts stage.

With these historic and modern wonders, there is sure to be some design inspiration to shape your next staircase decision.

Images from blog.prosperyourmind.com, travelandleisure.com and amusingplanet.com

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artsymphony_San Francisco's colorful mosaic staircase

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The spiral ramp was designed in 1932 by Guiseppe Momo and the br

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