How I discovered the secret staircase
I was driving home from another village not too far from mine and got I lost. Badly lost. It’s very easy to do around here, where the mountains are covered in thick woods and the winding dirt roads mostly don’t have names. I get lost quite a lot. And I’m not an natural ally of maps.
An epic thunderstorm had broken and I couldn’t see much at all through the windscreen. The wipers in my crappy old Fiat couldn’t really keep up with the rain. My sense of direction is based entirely on divination (‘I’m sure it’s this way’) but eventually I had to admit defeat, and pulled over to wait it out.
I sat in the car for ages, with the dog on the backseat, and when the sky cleared I got out and let the hound stretch her legs. It was then that I saw this huge, decaying mansion – half hidden behind a line of trees which concealed a set of high rusting gates.
I grabbed my camera from the boot and waded through tall wet grass and undergrowth until I reached gates which were closed (and which I scaled rather inelegantly) and saw a huge double fronted wooden door. It was ajar so I went in.
What I saw …
What I saw blew my mind. In front of me was an ancient bicycle under this exquisite, crumbling stone staircase. The light coming in through the door made it look like something from a Belle Epoque movie set.
The colours were sumptuous: greeny golds, stony silver, soft pale cobwebs and a strange, impossible to capture, blue where the shadows became deep. The whole place was a series of enormous rooms, like ballrooms, each one leading off these elegant but collapsing stairs that wound up through four floors. There wasn’t any furniture at all. It must have been incredibly grand at some point a long, long time ago. Although cavernous, there was still a delicate, intimate feeling to the space.
This region is hugely seismic and I recognised some of the cracks as ‘earthquake cracks’. The dust was thick and the light was pretty terrible. It came through only where there were broken windows on the landings, as all the ballrooms had shuttered windows which were sealed tight by ivy growing outside on the walls. I was mostly stumbling around in the dark using the camera flash to see as best I could in these vast rooms and coughing and spluttering from the dust. Time had stopped. I was breathing in air that was old. Air that hadn’t seen the light of day for many years.
Here are some of the shots I took that day. Go ahead and scroll through.
I have these images produced as Giclee Prints on Hahnemuhle Pearl fine art paper which has an exquisite, slightly orange peel texture … gives them a painterly feel … if you are interested in any of these, just contact me and we can talk, work something out for you.