Three years ago, a New York Times article expounded on why subway commuters shouldn’t walk on escalators, quoting researchers in London who highlighted that, to ease congestion, people ought to ride the moving steps two by two, instead of leaving one side unused for those in a rush. They must have completely forgotten to consider the alternative: stairs (but we guess nobody wants to climb at the end of a long work day).
Indeed, though they’ve largely been reduced to an afterthought, stairways are the integral backup plan everywhere, and especially for ever-higher skyscrapers with gleaming, futuristic lifts that ascend in a matter of seconds. However, somewhere before the evolution of mobility took us to this impressive age of smart elevators, inclined moving walkways and stairlifts – all of which come with the risk of a breakdown – staircases weren’t some backward invention. On the contrary, some are marvels of design with interesting histories, and all are sights to behold against the geography of their location. Here are four incredible examples from around the world.
CHAND BAORI, RAJASTHAN, INDIA
Baori or stepwells (wells with steps built into their walls) are unique to India, and this stunning landmark in the arid state of Rajasthan is one of the deepest and most cavernous in the country. Located in Abhaneri, the Chand Baori descends about 30m, with 3,500 narrow steps cut into the walls of the courtyard structure that’s 13 storeys deep. Built in the 9th century, it was also a centre of religious activities, with the air at the base being 5 to 6 deg C cooler. Little wonder then it has become a tourist draw, with the precision of the step geometry and the enormous scale of it being truly exceptional.
MOUNTAIN OF STEPS
MONTAGNE DE BUEREN, LIEGE, BELGIUM
In the historical heart of Liege lies a strange mountain. To scale it requires nothing more than pumping your legs over 374 steps. Its path is broad and danger-free, and climbers can stop for a break at any time. Every two years – with the next occurrence taking place in June this year – it transforms into a canvas for an extraordinary creation with thousands of flowers and candles. Because of its steep angle, the montage is observable from the foot of the steps. This is the “mountain of Bueren”, a 19th century stairway that extended from a former citadel to the city as a direct path for soldiers to access. It was named after 15th century commander Vincent de Bueren, in honour of the 600 men who died defending the city that was subsequently massacred. While the authenticity of this heroic account may be disputed, the impressiveness of the structure is irrefutable.
TAIHANG MOUNTAINS STAIRCASE, HENAN PROVINCE, CHINA
If confronting one’s fear of heights is the best way to overcome it, scaling this beanstalk leading to the taihang Mountain range in Linzhou must be the solution. Joke aside, if the height doesn’t make you dizzy, going round and round for 91m (or 21 turns) surely will. Which is why it is open only to people under 60 years of age, and the brave-hearted have to declare the absence of heart problems. this corkscrew structure sticks out like a sore thumb amid nature, but there’s no question that it’s truly outstanding. Plus, props to the idea of enabling a relatively safer hike for would-be mountaineers to enjoy fresh air, strong winds (hold on to the rails!) and gorgeous views.
HUASHAN, SHAANXI PROVINCE, CHINA
In comparison to the rest here, Mount hua is in a league of its own. The wonder of the stairs here is not in their beauty – they are, at times, nothing more than craggy footholds hewn into rocks – but the sheer daredevilry of kilometres of notches enabling one to summit its five sacred peaks; the highest being 2,083m tall. In fact, just the trek to ascend the tamest peak at 1,614m involves 3,800 steps, up sometimes-vertical cliff faces with nothing more than chain links for balance. With names such as somersault Cliff and sky Ladders, these are precipitous trails that will either lead you to breathtaking views or – if you aren’t careful enough – ensure you become a part of them.
TEXT ADELINE WONG PHOTOS HEMIS.FR, ALAMY & ISTOCKPHOTOS