Up and around

Step high, step low! Step every other, or all in a row. What am I? Right! Stairs... Do you think much about the stairs you step on? Don't they give you a lift as you climb up them and make you feel like flying as you walk down?

People have long loved the beauty, convenience, and lively designs possible in stairs. In fact, people built stairs into the first huge architecture we know, nine thousand years ago in the 28-foot-wide round tower just inside the walls of Old Testament Jericho!

Don't you think spiral stairs can be the most fun of all? Nobody knows who thought of them first, but builders were hiding them in the thick walls of castles and churches in Europe more than a thousand years ago (later they would give them beautiful rooms of their own). These sometimes-secret passages wind up through the walls, up to the roofs, and on into the high bell towers above.

In spiral (winding) stairways, each step radiates out from the newel (the ``nut'' or ``kernel,'' a tall, thick, round pole in the middle). Each step has two parts: the place you step, or the tread; and the small wall that stands between treads, the riser. You can see these parts clearly in the photo on this page of Mr. Eiffel standing on the spiral steps at the top of his famous tower in Paris - almost 100 years ago!

Now let's find parts of a spiral stairway in your own stairs. Let's look for the triangle-shaped steps (called winders) where your regular rectangular-shaped steps turn a corner. If you have a post at the top or bottom of the stairs, this is a newel post.

Can you imagine two spiral stairs wound together into one? Four hundred and fifty years ago, possibly with the help of the great Italian architect-artist-inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, Francis I, the French king, built a double-decker spiral stairs in his castle, Chambord.

One spiral stair twists around, and then a second, like the stripes on a candy cane. If you go down one spiral, and I go down the other, we won't ever meet! But between the stone piers (squared columns), we can peek out over the balusters (little carved posts holding up the railings) into the halls to see our friends.

Do you like to fly paper airplanes up and down your stairs (and perhaps around its corners)? You probably knew your airplanes were showing how the space in a stairway flows!

You're a good listener! You must have remembered that a group of steps is called a flight; and the wide tread, where you pause between flights, is called the landing.

Now you're off for some fun. As a stair-detective you can find new, interesting stairs; and maybe you can be like Leonardo and think up some fancy designs of your own!

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