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The Shocking Story Behind the Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul & Where to Find Them!

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There are countless Instagram spots in the capital of Turkey but one of the most popular places to get photos are the Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul.

These colourful stairways may be everywhere on your Pinterest feed when researching the city but what is the story behind them?

On my recent trip to Istanbul, I was curious about this myself. Sure, getting some pretty photos of these stairs was great. But, what did they mean exactly?

Are they street art? An LGBTQIA+ protest? Or, do they mean something much deeper?

More importantly, you may be wondering how you can find them in the city and get some photos yourself.

Well, in this helpful guide, I’ll explain the shocking story behind the Rainbow Stairs Istanbul and the exact location on where to find them for your trip!

What are the Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul?

The rainbow stairs of Istanbul are just that. A set of beautifully bright colourful steps in amongst the grey buildings of the city.

But, they are becoming a little bit of a sensation in the capital of Turkey and it’s easy to see why.

Not only do they make a great photo spot, but they also make people really happy!

Colours are always guaranteed to put a smile on people’s faces and that’s exactly what Hüseyin Çetinel aimed to do with them.

Rainbow stairs in Istanbul

The story behind the Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul

In 2013 Hüseyin Çetinel, a retired engineer, decided to paint some dull-looking steps in his local neighbourhood.

These steps linked both the artsy districts of Findikli and Cihangir around the popular Gezi Park.

He spent around $800 Dollars painting 145 steps in all colours of the rainbow. It took 40 kilos of paint and four gruelling days to create the masterpiece. 

After he had finished, it created quite a buzz around the local area and news about it spread over the city. 

The local people were so surprised and impressed by the spectacle and the word soon spread on social media.

It drew masses of people to the site and everyone was talking about it. Unfortunately, it also grabbed the attention of the local government.

Hüseyin Çetinel Rainbow Stairs Istanbul
Hüseyin Çetinel. Photo credit Jebiga

The government’s response

Due to the ongoing protests around the Gezi Park area against the local government, the authorities saw the rainbow steps as a rebellious act. 

They thought that the rainbow steps were just another social and political agenda against their rule.

So, sadly, the government decided to paint over the beautiful steps in a boring shade of grey and completely ruined all of Hüseyin’s hard work.

But, was Hüseyin’s rainbow road really an act of protest and rebellion?

Many believed that it was part of the LGBT and Pride movement in the city due to the similarities of the rainbow flag. Others agreed that it was an aid to the Gezi Park protests against the government.

But, when they interviewed Hüseyin on his motives for the rainbow stairs. He said that;

 “I didn’t do it for a group or as a form of activism. I did it to make people smile.”

An outcry from the people

At first, no one knew who painted over the steps. But, it was obvious to the local people who had ruined Hüseyin’s hard work. 

The people saw this move as a lack of respect for citizens’ rights in Turkey. People took to social media and shared the hashtag #DirenMerdiven or #ResistStairs. They shared pictures of what the government had done. It went viral and people were outraged. 

At first, the government denied all involvement. They even said they would launch an inquiry to catch the culprits!

But, in the end, the government was forced to own up for what they did. The local Mayor even admitted it on his Twitter account. However, they claimed they painted over it due to several complaints.

Hüseyin was angry and said, “Are they accusing me of disturbing public order? We’re the public. They are our stairs”.

Then, something magical happened… 

Rainbow Stairs Istanbul Huseyin Cetinel 4
Photo credit Jebiga

The start of the rainbow steps movement

After the public outcry, rainbow stairways were popping up all over the city and even around the country! It was like a chain reaction of colour. 

Eventually, the government relented and allowed the rainbow stairs in Istanbul to be returned in their gorgeous colours. 

Many people see these rainbow steps as a sign of triumph over the local authorities. Many just turn up to take some photos.

But, if there is one thing they never fail to do. It is to bring smiles to people’s faces every day, just like Hüseyin wanted!

Rainbow stairs in Istanbul

How & where to find the Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul today?

Although these steps were painted in 2013, it seems that by 2015 they were in serious need of repair.

So the Beyoğlu Municipality destroyed the original steps that Hüseyin painted and replaced them with a new set of stairs. 

The ‘new’ stairs now have permanent rainbow tiles here to show a mark of respect for Hüseyin and his masterpiece. 

These new, but ever so popular, Rainbow Steps can be found on Sali Pazari Yokusu. If you’re using one of the local buses or trams, there is a stop called Salıpazarı. Just alight here and head over!

You’ll know you’ve arrived as Café Nove is there on the corner. Fun fact: Hüseyin Çetinel’s granddaughter Nazli owns the café! It’s definitely worth popping in while you’re here as they do some great coffee and meals. 

Rainbow stairs Istanbul

Things to know before you visit 

  • There are plenty of rainbow steps dotted all over Istanbul. But, the ones between Findikli and Cihangir is the original painted by Hüseyin Çetinel.
  • The original steps have been replaced with colourful tiles now as a permanent fixture in the city!
  • The rainbow steps are open 24 hours a day and are completely FREE to visit
  • These are a really popular stop in the city so expect some crowds! You may have to wait for your turn for photos.
  • Some of the other rainbow steps in the area are usually repainted and ‘freshened up’ on a voluntary basis. So, they may be faded/dirty when you visit.
Rainbow stairs in Istanbul
Meeting some of the furry locals…

Looking for more Instagrammable places in Istanbul?

If you’re here looking for information about this photography location, you’re probably already aware that Instanbul is a highly Instagrammable city!

You have the gorgeous blue mosque, the Hagia Sofia, not to mention the beautiful views from the many rooftops. It’s got an endless list of inspiration. 

If you wanted to see the top photography locations in the city, make sure you check out my complete post all about them here.

Colourful lamps at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Where to stay in Istanbul

There are plenty of amazing places to stay in the city. But, if you wanted to stay somewhere really magical (and Instagrammable) then I would recommend the Seven Hills Hotel.

Their rooms are spacious and, despite being in the middle of the city, really quiet as well.

The Seven Hills hotel is located in the popular Sultanahmet Camii and has an epic rooftop overlooking the Hagia Sofia. You could even have breakfast here each morning overlooking the views!

Click here to book your stay at the Seven Hills!

The view from the Seven Hills Hotel rooftop
The view from the Seven Hills Hotel

Read more of my related articles on Istanbul 

Basilica Cistern – visit a sunken palace in Istanbul

Things to do in Balat – Istanbul’s most colourful area

How to visit Beyazıt State Library in Istanbul

The top places to visit in Istanbul

How to spend the perfect weekend in Istanbul

Where to find the best Baklava in Istanbul

Save this Rainbow Stairs in Istanbul guide for later!

how to find the rainbow steps in Istanbul
where are the rainbow steps in istanbul