Civic and public stairs

Steps and stairs have always been an essential part of building since primitive man first built a shelter. To be a few feet off the ground was to be protected against dangerous animals or the dampness of the ground in rainy periods. Ropes were twined from vegetation, or ladders formed from small branches tied together.

As time went by the various civilizations built their temples or place of worship to their gods. As the gods lived in the heavens such places were built high up on a mountain, or a high structure was erected if no mountain existed, and to get to the altar at the top a long ceremonial stair was

Figure 2.1a A Jacob's ladder in landscape terms: steps called 'the skyladder' at Tai Shan, China (551 bc) (from Schuster, F., Treppen, Hoffman Verlag, 1949)

created (Figures 2.1a and 2.1 b). In Greek temples the floor or podium was raised approximately 1500 mm so that the crowd looked up at the priest in his aloof position. The Parthenon has a triple-block plinth, each block 500 mm x 750 mm, on the west front. Such a stylobate is difficult to scale and forms the intended barrier to the temple domain (Figure 2.1c). Roman temples were designed for the public to gain access to the altar spaces, thus a straight flight of stairs was created leading to the front entrance, as at Maison Carree, Nimes (Figure 2.1 d).

Figure 2.1b El Castillo, Chichen-Itza, Yucatan, Mexico, thirteenth century (courtesy offudith Blanc)

Figure 2.1c Parthenon steps

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