One of the big quandaries in travel lies in whether or not one should do a lot of research before heading out. Surprises and random discoveries are a highlight of a trip but at the same time, randomness can be hard to come across on one’s own. A perfect example of this is the colourful staircase of Istanbul.
During the summer of 2013, a retiree named Huseyin Cetinel decided to paint a public staircase in the district of Beyoglu. It took him four days but when he was done, the result was a dazzling display of colour in the middle of a dreary-looking area. The stairs were an immediate hit. Photos went up online and all across social media. Some people even assumed it was an LGBT project due to the rainbow theme. Mr. Cetinel said he did it because he “wanted to make people smile”. Whatever the reasoning or purpose behind the project, it quickly became part of Istanbul’s political landscape.
On August 30, not long after the stairs got their beauty makeover, the municipal government re-painted the staircase back to the original cement grey. People were pissed. They were angry to the point that the popular hashtag from June’s protests, ResistGeziPark, was duplicated into ResistStairs. The protest spread right across Turkey and people painted their local public stairs rainbow in solidarity. Eventually the municipal government caved and re-re-painted the staircase, this time somewhat back to what Mr. Cetinel did.
When I was preparing for a trip back to Istanbul, my research led me to these stairs. If I hadn’t been researching for random things to see/do in Istanbul, I wouldn’t have come across this to visit because they are definitely not on the tourist trail. So, score one for research. The stairs are actually easy to find – they lie in between the metro stops of Findikli and Tophane. Starting from Tophane, we walked towards Findikli, not deviating from the main road which hosts the metro line. If you are walking towards Findikli, you want to be on the left side of the road. On the right side, we passed Istanbul Modern (museum) which lies along the Bosphorous. You can’t see it, though, due to all the buildings, but you can see the tops of cruise ships poking up over the buildings rather incongruously. Walking down the rather busy street, I wondered if I got the correct directions because it really did seem like a weird place to paint some stairs. But no, soon enough, just after a bank, there they were!
I immediately loved the rainbow stairs. The sheer randomness and chutzpah it takes for someone to one day decide to paint public property is pretty awesome. The staircase itself is chipped and beaten up, the area is decidedly functional and rundown, and there are 145 stairs in all. I’m not sure how Mr. Cetinel saw all that and still imagined pretty colours. Today, the colours are not as bright and solid compared to the photos taken in 2013, which is a shame. But they were still fun and they are a bright spot in a rather arbitrary place. If you’re in Istanbul, do check them out!
How to Get There
Take the metro to the Tophane stop and walk towards the Findikli stop. It is about a 5-10 minute stroll. Retrace your steps to explore Beyoglu or climb the stairs to access the Cihangir area instead!