The Violent (and Presumably Pretentious) Origins of Spiral Staircases

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A spiral staircase makes a press release in any house that it’s positioned in. Whether or not the steps are manufactured from wrought-iron and lead as much as a comfortable loft, or the swirl is comprised of wooden in a mid-century trendy abode, these architectural items get consideration as simple as they save house.

However consider it or not, the origins and functions of spiral staircases are up for debate, sparking arguments in Reddit threads and serving as materials for a lot of thesis papers. 

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A generally cited motive for the invention of spiral staircases is that they offered a further line of protection in medieval castles ought to they arrive underneath siege. Attackers could be funneled into the staircase, making it simpler to battle again because the defending forces attacked them from above. However that’s not the complete story. Learn on to study extra about this historic function.

Clockwise or counterclockwise? That’s the query.

Whereas Shakespeare mused about what it means to be or to not be, spiral staircase consultants and novice historians ask: Clockwise or counterclockwise?

For those who subscribe to the idea that these staircases have been constructed as a method of defense, a clockwise staircase makes probably the most sense as a result of it could put primarily right-handed citadel defenders . They might cost down the steps with their weapons in their right hand and have extra room to swing them at their attackers. The attackers’ weapons, in the meantime, could be inhibited by the newel round which the steps have been constructed.

This theory has been traced to Sir Theodore Andrea Cook dinner, who shared his concepts in a 1902 essay and later in his e-book, Spirals in Nature and Art. In his rationalization, counterclockwise spiral staircases have been possible the results of right-handed architects who might extra simply draw a right-handed spiral. 

He states, nevertheless, that this isn’t essentially the optimum development. “A person ascending it and turning perpetually to the left would at all times have his proper hand free to assault the defenders, and the garrison coming down would expose their left fingers on the surface,” he stated.

However this principle — that spiral stairs turned clockwise to offer citadel defenders a bonus — picked up steam and was however cited by different writers, permitting it to cement itself in individuals’s minds as truth. But it doesn’t mirror the variety of staircases that really flip counterclockwise, which successfully debunks this notion.

Some early castles and cathedrals really featured two mirrored sets of spiral staircases with the staircase within the north tower turning anti (or counter)-clockwise and the staircase within the south tower turning clockwise.

Why construct stairs in a spiral in any respect?

Whereas it’s common to imagine that castles have been constructed primarily for defense, it seems that castles additionally served a wholly totally different objective. 

Because the late Nineteen Eighties and Nineties, citadel specialists have questioned the function of castles as primarily a protection mechanism. As an alternative, in accordance with James Wright, an archaeologist and architectural historian, “Castles are primarily monumental buildings to impress the ability, the status, the lordship, and the standing of medieval aristocrats,” he stated on Gone Medieval’s podcast Mythbusting Medieval Buildings

They have been successfully “theatrical backdrops to lavish shows of energy and patronage,” he explains. They have been residences as nicely, and solely after these two functions have been served did the defensibility of the citadel come into play. Protection, in reality, might have solely been an afterthought or “symbolic of this energy and status,” per Wright.

The entire analysis performed on castles within the final 50 years has led consultants to consider spiral staircases weren’t initially designed as defensive mechanisms. Wright says that amongst citadel specialists and students, spiral staircases at the moment are regarded as merely a “high-status manner of accessing an higher chamber.” That actually has a pleasant ring to it, for those who occur to have one in your house.