Imperial staircase
An Imperial staircase is the name given to a staircase
Stairway, staircase, stairwell, flight of stairs, or simply stairs are names for a construction designed to bridge a large vertical distance by dividing it into smaller vertical distances, called steps...

 with divided flights. Usually the first flight
Stairway, staircase, stairwell, flight of stairs, or simply stairs are names for a construction designed to bridge a large vertical distance by dividing it into smaller vertical distances, called steps...

 rises to a half-landing
Mezzanine (architecture)
In architecture, a mezzanine or entresol is an intermediate floor between main floors of a building, and therefore typically not counted among the overall floors of a building. Often, a mezzanine is low-ceilinged and projects in the form of a balcony. The term is also used for the lowest balcony in...

 and then divides into two symmetrical flights both rising with an equal number of steps and turns to the next floor
A storey or story is any level part of a building that could be used by people...

. The feature is reputed to have first been used at El Escorial
El Escorial
The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a historical residence of the king of Spain, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 45 kilometres northwest of the capital, Madrid, in Spain. It is one of the Spanish royal sites and functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum, and...

. The Jordan Staircase of the Winter Palace is a notable example, while other such staircases can be found at Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, in London, is the principal residence and office of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality...

, Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is a medieval castle and royal residence in Windsor in the English county of Berkshire, notable for its long association with the British royal family and its architecture. The original castle was built after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. Since the time of Henry I it...

, Palazzo Reale di Caserta
Caserta Palace
The Royal Palace of Caserta is a former royal residence in Caserta, southern Italy, constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples. It was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century...

 and Mentmore Towers
Mentmore Towers
Mentmore Towers is a 19th century English country house in the village of Mentmore in Buckinghamshire. The house was designed by Joseph Paxton and his son-in-law, George Henry Stokes, in the revival Elizabethan and Jacobean style of the late 16th century called Jacobethan, for the banker and...


The advantages of an imperial staircase became apparent during the 18th century, when Matthew Brettingham
Matthew Brettingham
Matthew Brettingham , sometimes called Matthew Brettingham the Elder, was an 18th-century Englishman who rose from humble origins to supervise the construction of Holkham Hall, and eventually became one of the country's better-known architects of his generation...

 revolutionised the design of the piano nobile
Piano nobile
The piano nobile is the principal floor of a large house, usually built in one of the styles of classical renaissance architecture...

 of the London town house. Guests would proceed through a series of reception rooms arranged as a circuit. At large gatherings the two branches could ease the flow of guests arriving and departing, or moving between a ballroom and a supper room on the floor below. An imperial staircase is often used today for similar reasons where two streams of people are moving in opposite directions in buildings as diverse as an opera house
Opera house
An opera house is a theatre building used for opera performances that consists of a stage, an orchestra pit, audience seating, and backstage facilities for costumes and set building...

 to a railway station. This use explains why the first single flight is often wider than the following two divided flights, although narrowing flights are also an architectural trick to lengthen perspective in order to increase the impression of size.

An imperial staircase should not be confused with a double staircase, an external feature and common motif seen rising to the entrances of many houses in the Palladian style, such as those at Kedleston Hall
Kedleston Hall
Kedleston Hall is an English country house in Kedleston, Derbyshire, approximately four miles north-west of Derby, and is the seat of the Curzon family whose name originates in Notre-Dame-de-Courson in Normandy...

, Derbyshire. Double staircases as opposed to imperial staircases are more often of just two flights (hence the name) leaving the ground symmetrically to join one common destination occasionally, especially in the architecture of the Sicilian Baroque
Sicilian Baroque
Sicilian Baroque is the distinctive form of Baroque architecture that took hold on the island of Sicily, off the southern coast of Italy, in the 17th and 18th centuries...

 they will leave the ground as one flight and then divide but this is less common. On occasions one sees an Imperial staircase in the form of two flights rising to join and then continue as one flight but this is rare.

External links

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