What is it about stairs? Of all practical architectural features, they seem to have the greatest capacity for beauty. Previously, I have admired George Gilbert Scott’s fine staircase in the Renaissance Hotel at St Pancras, and the magnificent spiral sweep of the Scala Contarini del Bovolo in Venice. In order to visit the Tulip Stairs, my treads take me to Greenwich and the Queen’s House.
The Tulip Stairs are the work of the acclaimed English architect Inigo Jones, and were completed in 1635 during the reign of Charles I. They were the first self-supporting spiral staircase in Britain, with cantilevers in the wall supporting the structure, leaving an Instagrammable unimpeded view up through the centre of the staircase. The white stairs are lined by a fine, wrought-iron balustrade of blue-painted flowers.
The purity of the spiral, combined with the simplicity of the colours produces a thing of beauty, best viewed from the ground floor where the soaring spiral ascends towards a summit into pure abstraction.
At the time of my visit, a school party of teenagers crowded the hallowed stairs; hung over the beautiful bannisters; somewhat spoiled the awesome aesthetic. No need for anxiety, though: bored youth do not linger long, and I soon have the staircase to myself, except for the earnest tripod-wielding, slowly-shutter-adjusting camera-buff, whom I recognise will not be so easily dislodged as the chattering youthful masses. Grudgingly, I accept his proximity; prepare to share my moment of the sublime; recognise that this is the reality of the big city and mass tourism; acknowledge that my presence is as annoying to him as his is to me.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny contemplates the sublime.