If you are up for a bit of a walk from the downtown hustle and bustle, then the Queen’s Staircase may be just the place you should visit. Take a leisurely walk headed in a south eastern direction from Rawson Square and you will soon happen upon this historic location.
Located at the bottom of Bennet’s Hill the Queens Staircase also known as 66 steps is a marvel for many who visit. It was carved out of the soft lime stone sometime in the 1790’s which would make the site over 200 years old. Many persons forget that the Bahamas did not start with the introduction of slaves but was thriving from the 15th century almost a decade after the landfall of Christoforo Colombo aka Christopher Columbus.
History states that it took over 600 slaves over 16 years to not only carve the stair case but to dig out the quarry opening that leads to the staircase. When you look at the walls in certain areas you can actually still see the chisel marks made by the men who gave their lives to dig this massive area.
The quarry men did not dig and throw all the limestone away instead it is said to have been used to build Fort Fincastle which sits atop of the Bennet’s Hill. This means that the stone had to be dug out into slabs, strapped up with rope twine and then either lifted or dragged atop the hill to build the fort, which is uniquely built in the shape of an old steam paddle boat.
One can only marvel at the depth of the quarry when you consider that the total height from the bottom to the top of the gully is 102 ft and from the steps of the Queen’s Staircase to the entrance of the gully near the Princess Margaret Hospital 260 feet. Estimating the width of the quarry to be about 20 feet we can also surmise a square footage of 530, 400 feet of quarry. Converting the square footage to cubic yards we get 5,304. Since a cubic yard of limestone is said to weigh 1.5 tons we can surmise that the amount of quarry removed from this gully leading up to the staircase weighted nearly eight thousand tons. My math can be off… infact way off but you get the idea it was a whole lot of lime stone removed.
Although its called the Queen’s Stair case it was not originally called so. The locals simply called it the sixty six steps. The staircase was named the Queens Staircase in honour of Queen Victoria and her reign when she abolished slavery. This makes more sense since history records that slaves dug the gully and stairs for the British who most likely used it as an escape route. Although this concept of and escape has been challenged on many occasions.
Originally there were only 64 steps to the stair case but the top and the bottom stairs were to high to step up comfortably thus two more steps were added and the name 66 steps was born. There is also a rumor that the reason there are 66 steps was because there was one step for each of the years that Queen Victoria ruled. This cannot be true as it was renamed in her honour and she had not reach such a long time of reign also she only reigned as queen for 63 years.
No matter the stories that have and are being told about the stair case one thing is for sure, Time will claim all things and the stairs are not immune. Over time one of the 66 steps had been worn out from rain and traffic but the the existing 65 steps has been preserved by a layer of brick. So upon your next visit if you are strong enough to walk up the staircase and count them all you will find that there are only 65 but a thin remnant of the 66th step is still visible.
On the side of the steps as you walk either up or down is a water fall that seems to be on its own time schedule of when it is on or off but when it is on it roars and gives a surreal sound and feeling of being transported back into a prehistoric time with a lively waterfall. Unfortunately this is not an original feature of the location and was added simply as a aesthetic feature that has caught on nicely.
At the top of the stair case there are often locals that are willing to give you more information about the steps, its history and the people who carved it. If your traveled up the staircase you can walk to the Water Tower or Fort Fincastle and even better be sure to purchase a local souvenir from the vendors or the official Bennet’s Hill store.