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The double helix staircase of the Château de Chambord.

Da Vinci Designed a Double Helix Staircase at the Château de Chambord


One of the most impressive architectural features of the French Renaissance castle of Château de Chambord is its famous double helix staircase. The design of this element is popularly attributed to the renowned Italian Renaissance polymath, Leonardo da Vinci.

The Château de Chambord is a castle located in the Loire Valley, in the French department of Loir-et-Cher. The construction of the Château de Chambord began during the 16th century, and it is an archetype of the architectural style known as ‘French Renaissance’, which flourished between the 15th and 17th centuries in France.

Northwest façade of the Château de Chambord.

Northwest façade of the Château de Chambord. (Benh Lieu Song/CC BY SA 3.0)

Commissioning the Château de Chambord

The building of the Château de Chambord was commissioned in 1519 by Francis I, the King of France. Initially, the castle was meant to serve as the king’s hunting lodge, where he would stay for several weeks during each visit, and hence was not designed to serve as a permanent residence.

Nevertheless, Francis was a great lover of the arts and the Château de Chambord, in spite of being a temporary residence, was elevated to the status of an architectural marvel. Francis’ pride in the Château de Chambord is evident, as he showed it off to visiting sovereigns and ambassadors, including his great nemesis, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who visited the castle in 1539.

Between the commencement of the castle’s construction until the death of Francis in 1547 (about 28 years), the king is believed to have only spent 72 days at the Château de Chambord. At the time of the king’s death, only the keep and the royal wing had been completed.

But the death of Francis did not halt the construction of the Château de Chambord. Work on the castle continued during the reign of Henry II, the successor of Francis. It was, however, only during the 17th century, when France was under the rule of Louis XIV, that the Château de Chambord was finally completed.

Birdseye view of the château de Chambord, France

Birdseye view of the château de Chambord, France. (CC BY SA 3.0)

The Château de Chambord Double Helix Staircase

The Château de Chambord is significant from an architectural point of view for a number of reasons. For example, it is today the largest Renaissance castle in the Loire Valley. Additionally, this castle is regarded to be one of the best examples of French Renaissance architecture, a style that succeeded Gothic architecture, and in turn was succeeded by Baroque architecture. The Château de Chambord’s best-known architectural feature, however, is its double helix staircase.

In essence, this staircase consists of two intertwining spiral staircases that go all the way up to the castle’s terrace. In practical terms, this design would allow visitors to the castle to ascend and descend without obstruction. One staircase may be used by those going up, whilst the other by those going down, and the two parties would not bump into each other. In addition, this was the place where the French royal court stood when they welcomed important guests to the castle or when they watched the festivities.

The double helix staircase of the Château de Chambord.

The double helix staircase of the Château de Chambord. (Ignaz Wiradi/CC BY SA 3.0)

Leonardo Da Vinci Designed a Staircase

One of the most often cited trivia about the double helix staircase in the Château de Chambord is that it was designed by the great Renaissance polymath, Leonardo da Vinci, himself. It is known that in 1516, Leonardo da Vinci entered into the service of Francis and settled in the Château du Clos Lucé, another castle in the Loire Valley.

The great polymath would live there until his death in 1519. With such a brilliant mind living in the vicinity, it is not too difficult to imagine that this ingenious staircase was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Some have even suggested that Leonardo da Vinci was responsible for the original design of the castle as well. At the very least, there is some agreement that Leonardo da Vinci influenced the design of the castle’s double helix staircase.

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci by Francesco Melzi.

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci by Francesco Melzi. (Public Domain)

Today, the Château de Chambord is a popular tourist destination and its double helix staircase is undoubtedly one of the highlights. It is almost certain that visitors seeing this staircase today would be awed by it in a similar manner as those fortunate enough to see it when the castle was owned by the kings of France.

Top Image: The double helix staircase of the Château de Chambord. Source: Helac/CC BY 1.0

By Wu Mingren

Updated on January 12, 2022.


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PARISCityVISION, 2018. The famous staircase at Chambord by Da Vinci. [Online]
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Travel France Online, 2017. Chateau de Chambord - Leonardo da Vinci. [Online]
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Pete Wagner's picture

I guess François I, or Charles V or Henry whatever, can be seen in the (dim) light of modern so-called elites like Bill Gates, the Zuckerbergs or Obamas, etc., using the money they’ve acquired via tricks and institutional or corporate thuggery (socio-economic or elite-tribal tyranny, by and large) to commission greater minds than theirs to create great things for themselves, in total disregard to greater humanity or any sense of morality.  But today, any archaeological accomplishments come largely from university-trained ‘pros’, conditioned by their own egos and fanfare, with the result being MUCH less than a true ‘da Vinci’ or any big, lasting work from that era.  Today, it would be much more just a facade - that says, look how powerful me and my money are (but from a distance only)!  And no, don’t look too hard at the cheap Chinese drywall slapped over Canadian two-by-fours.  A far cry from the Golden Age (pre-Ice Age) ancient Greeks, who erected their beauty from stone cut from local quarries, via only the labor young local men of the village, and for only ‘the people’ of that village.  What the much greater old culture produced remains unmatched even in the state of ruin from the calamity that diabolically wiped them out.

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Archaeologist, it’s presented as a possibility, not claimed as fact. All these old buildings have their legends and as an individual Leonardo tends to have many legendary attributions. Anyway, Leonardo died in 1519, the year the castle was commissioned to be built, in the few years before his death he could have been involved in its design in many ways, he worked for Francis I, and lived in a grace and favor estate of Francis’ about 30 miles away until his death, so it’s possible, although the design is French Renaissance. But that’s the stuff that legends are made of – it would be interesting to know when this attribution was made. If documented close to his time it would tend to validate it, and much such provenance exists centuries later for many projects but if such documents existed for this construction they surely would be presented and featured. 

Anyway, for those that like this sort of thing, you can do a Google Streetview of the castle, both its interior and surroundings including many views of the staircases.

Pete Wagner's picture

What’s proof have to do with the history of Rome, or any history?  ‘His-story’, and any form of wild and devious supposition, both create/promote and fill a void, at least whenever somebody (or an industry) benefits from it, and nobody challenges it.  But as we know, it’s now mostly just a big, leaning house of cards.

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Where’s the proof for this hypothosis?  Without proof, it’s all just supposition.

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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