Rainbow steps in Istanbul
I had heard of the Rainbow steps in Istanbul before I set off to visit this incredibly historic city in Turkey. My mission on my third day in Istanbul was to track down the Rainbow steps. I had been reliably informed that they were tucked away in Cihangir. A quick tour up the Galata Tower and a jaunt on Istiklal Avenue led me into Istanbul’s Taksim square. From there, it seemed Cihangir was not too far to walk. On my way I bumped into a local resident, who lived just by the steps, Sedat, and who kindly re-directed me onto the right path. I still somehow managed to get hopelessly lost. A French expatriate who lives about 400 metres away from the rainbow steps in Cihangir did his best to get me on track. In the end a local resident who spoke no English, but was probably the most technologically savvy Turk I met, whipped out his smart phone and asked me to type in English where I wanted to get to. I typed in “colourful steps” which his app quickly translated into Turkish as he burst out in laughter. He took me as close as he could and pointed to a sharp right to take. About 5 minutes later I managed to locate the entrance to the steps with a grinning Sedat standing at the entrance haven’t completed his errand and wondering where my party and I were.
It had taken almost half a day to make my way from Sultanahmet to Cihangir with a detour to the Galata Tower and to see the Kamondo stairs on foot. At last here were the rainbow steps!
My fascination with the rainbow steps invariably has a lot to do with the story behind it. Huseyin Cetinel, a local resident and retired forestry engineer apparently spent $800 of his own money on 40 kilograms of paint to create the rainbow steps. When asked why, he responded that “I did it to make people smile,” There is something special about selfless people who care enough about people to commit their own money, time and effort in making others happy. As the saying goes, “True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.” Huseyin Cetinel turned this mantra into reality.
This deed, as creative as it was, did not start life easily, however. The city authorities painted over the steps at dawn perhaps hoping that no one will notice. However, the backlash they faced on social media, especially on tweeter, only helped to make the rainbow steps even more popular, especially beyond the shores of Turkey. Locals came together and re-painted the steps from the government’s grey back to its rainbow colours. Now hundreds of tourists and travelers (if they can find it) troop to Cihangir and Findikili to see this colourful ensemble. It is somewhat natural to have the steps in this area, Cihangir above the steps and Findikili below it. Cihangir seemed like a pretty well to do neighbourhood, judging by the luxury cars and fine restaurants on show on its streets. At one point I had to stop for a moment in amazement at the prestige cars parked in what looked like an apartment car park.
I have since learned that Cihangir, is home to some of the city’s actors, writers and artists as well as some of its expats and a favourite “hunting” ground for the paparrazi. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea to have gotten lost. As I mistakenly looked for the rainbow steps I ended up on one perhaps equally as plentiful as the rainbow’s 145 steps. The only difference was it wasn’t painted but going down it was pure bliss as the Bosphorus unveiled itself right before my very eyes. There was a rather large ship docked nearby. This was perhaps an added attraction and explained why this neighbourhood in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul seemed relatively more upmarket, but with an avant-gardist and non-conformist nature that has triggered an acceptance and celebration of the rainbow steps.
At the base of the steps itself, I must have hang around for almost half an hour observing both locals and tourists with their DSLRs and smart phones taking selfies and photos of their friends in imaginative ways all trying to be a rainbow in the clouds of Istanbul…..and who could possibly blame them!
NB: The Rainbow steps were demolished less than a week of taking these photos.