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The History of Stairs

When was the last time you really thought about stairs? They’re such an important part of society and the world at large—so important, in fact, that we hardly stop to notice or appreciate the stairs we step on every single day.

So why do we have stairs? Where did it all begin? It’s time to step into the world of stairs and their long, rich history. In this blog, the Spruce Grove stair railing experts will give you thorough history of stairs and how they transformed the world of foot travel and architecture in the process.

The Beginning of Stairs

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time that stairs were invented. However, many researchers point to 6000 B.C. as the earliest known time period when stairs were used. These stairs were essentially portions of tree trunks tied together to create stepping platforms—they weren’t associated with any buildings or structures, as they were built to help people navigate treacherous terrain and find higher ground for increased chances of survival. By moving to places of greater security, peoples of the time had a greater chance of survival if they could ascend and descend in elevation as quickly as possible without the potential for slips and falls on treacherous terrain. Stairs accomplished this task, minimizing the risk of injury while helping large groups avoid disaster and travel quickly.

Stairs as a Religious Symbol

The first granite staircase was created in China around 50 B.C., as a way for travelers to reach the sacred mountain of Tai Shan. Before the granite stairs were built, a rudimentary ladder helped people reach Tai Shan’s summit. The ladder climb was held more spiritual value than practical value—according to Confucius, the stair climb was a symbol of an ascension to reach a “divine height” and to achieve a connection between the earth and the sky—and the granite stairs that replaced the ladder achieved the same metaphorical purpose. There are many other metaphorical ladders and stairs in the religious realm, including the Jacob’s ladder from the Christian bible, the tower of Babel, the stairs at the pyramids of Egypt, and the celestial ladder of Shantung in China.

Stairs and Military Strategy

Spiral staircases that wrap around castle towers weren’t just for aesthetic value—they had strategic military value as well. During battles, spiral staircases (which almost always spin counterclockwise) often favored those defending the castle. In a one-on-one skirmish between swordsmen, the defender would always have higher ground than the attacker—and because most swordsmen were trained to use their right hand to fight, the attack would end up hitting their sword against the castle wall, unable to get a solid strike on the defender. The attacker’s head would always end up at the defender’s sword swinging level, and the lack of stair rails would allow the defender to easily push the attacker off the stairs and down to his almost certain death below. Who knew stairs could play such a role in swordplay?

Stairs Today

In today’s modern world, staircases take on a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. There are a growing number of stunning helical (spiral) staircases, like in the Vatican Museum in Rome or I.M Pei’s space-age helical wonder in the Louvre, dog-leg staircases like the one at the Paris Opera, and unbelievably complex staircases like the Schlossberg stairs in Austria or the Chand Baori in India. Even escalators are an amazing example of stair innovation, and they’re used virtually everywhere except Wyoming.

Of course, the most useful stairs are the ones in your own home—and unless you’re planning on winning some swordfights in the near future, every great staircase needs beautiful and durable stair rails.

That’s where Dave’s Railings can help. With over 10 years of experience in the world of stair rails, we’re happy to help you find stair rails that meet your style demands, your safety requirements, and your budget. Get started with Dave’s Railings today!