Staircase ambiance

Stairs and staircases have at least as much metaphorical power as roads have. At the first step, you are still uncertain about the way they take you, but even the ‘journey’ itself promises an exciting adventure. A highlight of the presently popular guided historical city walks is roaming in unknown houses. People who love constructed environment can walk through them from cellar to attic even if it is a mansion or a baronial building.

Tölgyfalépcsőház a keszthelyi Festetics-kastélyban - Helikon Kastélymúzeum, CC BY-NC-NDThe traditional and practical meaning of stairs is linking the floors of buildings, but they obviously show rather different images in a secession building or in a housing estate.Figuratively, stairs connect different social layers not only in space but mentally as well: just think about the service-stairs. Servants who walked on winding and narrow stairs faded into the lives of mansions, castles and families while they remained almost invisible, but the connection between them based on mutual dependence at the same time. It is also true that servants belonged to the social structure of that period just like the collective toilets at the end of corridors or the servant’s rooms opening to kitchens. Nowadays, these stairs have no more significance, as they are rarely used, because who would want to stumble on narrow and dark stairways?

steinerBesides social questions and stairs as symbols, staircases hold something interesting due to their original functions. The spiral staircase served strategic reasons for example. The primary goal of it was to make the higher levels of castles easier to defend. If you have already climbed such stairways, you may know that its stepping-stones are not identical. The residents of the castle could get used to them quickly, but their enemies could stumble on them. The most important point was that a soldier defending the staircase from above had more space to fight with his right hand than the attacker had, who arrived from below. The wall – in case of an outer staircase encompassing a tower – or the pillar in the middle – in case of an inner staircase – hindered the invader in fencing with right hand.

Gundel étterem lépcsőháza, Budapest, 1980 - Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglátóipari Múzeum, CC BY-NC-NDNowadays, due to our changing traffic culture, they have less and less role. Architects usually do not design spectacular staircases that used to function as ornaments of certain houses for a long time. On the contrary, stairs have moved to more hidden places presently, and their old places have been occupied by lifts being much more comfortable and quicker.
Interestingly, they remained popular elements of artistic and motion-picture creations, like fire escapes, runaways on stairs or geometrical forms appearing in aesthetic quality. They can mean anything to us, going towards heavenly spheres or sinking, a route of traffic or a work of art: let’s use them!

Translated by Zita Aknai