The Colourful Revolution of The Rainbow Steps, Istanbul, Turkey

The Colourful Revolution of The Rainbow Steps, Istanbul, Turkey

£500 and a few tins of paint could be all it takes to transform your neighbourhood into a tourist attraction! Well, that's if you follow the beautiful story of Turkey's rainbow steps.

Some pre-trip research on the colourful city of Istanbul brought up some equally colourful photos on Instagram. They were of a set of steps linking the arty districts of Findikli and Cihangir. I instantly added them to my 'must see' list, but first I wanted to know what the story was behind them. Were they highlighting LGBT issues? Something political? Or were they just a bit of fun?

In 2013, retired forestry engineer Huseyin Cetinel spent four days and around £500 transforming the huge staircase from concrete grey, to a beautiful array of rainbow colours. It was considered a kind of guerrilla street art project. No one expected it, but the locals fell in love with it.

Photos spread across social media, creating quite a buzz. Many assumed the steps were painted by gay rights campaigners - mimicking the rainbow flag. Others said it must be an outcry against the controlling government (particularly after the Gezi Park protests that had just taken place).

It turned out Huseyin's motivation was something entirely different...

"I didn't do it for a group or as a form of activism. I did it to make people smile."

Sadly, overnight, the stairs were repainted a dull shade of grey. While the local government didn't own up immediately, it caused such a stir, they were forced to take responsibility for the act. Many saw it as an example of a controlling government, and a lack of respect for the people. It was time for a revolution... a rainbow revolution!

Within a few days, not only were the stairs repainted, but volunteers also started painting other staircases and walkways in cities across Turkey. Photos spread via social media, and crowds flocked to take photos of the colourful sights.

With the stairs well and truly on my 'must see' list, I paid a visit to the area in April. While there a newly married couple stopped to take wedding photos, a group of tourists ran up and down videoing their every move, while locals casually walked down them (as they probably do everyday). I discovered that not only is there a main set of stairs, there are smaller offshoots (also painted) and another large painted (but rather weathered) set just one street away.

The rainbow steps are definitely worth a visit, especially to keep this beautiful story alive. Huseyin was right... his work certainly does "make people smile." Not only is it a heart-warming tale, it translates to anywhere in the world. Perhaps it's time to bring some colour to your neighbourhood?

The Rainbow Steps are located on Sali Pazari Yokusu (Café Nove is on the corner).

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