Istanbul is one of the most famous cities in the world. With a rich history, beautiful architecture and excellent food, this Turkish city has captured the imaginations of travelers for centuries.
Istanbul is also famous for its plentiful four-legged residents: cats. The city of Istanbul is chock full of cats, with some estimates putting the number of stray felines at 125,000. But the citizens of Istanbul do not see this as a problem; they welcome their feline friends with open arms.
Istanbul has a long history of caring for cats, which goes all the way back to the origins of the city and is firmly rooted in their culture. In this article, we’ll explore the origins of cats in Istanbul and why there are so many in the city.
Cats in Istanbul: Practicality and Culture
Although citizens of Istanbul have always loved their cats, the reason for their feline love is rooted in their religion, their culture, and a sense of practicality.
The rise of cats in Istanbul dates back to the people who settled the city, the Ottomans. The mighty Ottomans worshipped cats based on their cleanliness and their ability to hunt. As a result of their long history with cats, felines have become an essential part of Turkish culture and the city of Istanbul.
Cats have a special place in Islamic culture, but cats have also earned their keep as useful members of society in Istanbul.
In the days of old, rats, mice, and other vermin were serious problems for large cities. With open pits of waste, dead animals everywhere, and a lack of options for storage, rats, and mice had a habit of spreading disease by getting into food stores and spreading their feces around.
By keeping cats around, citizens could ensure that rats and mice would stay away which meant less food lost and fewer instances of disease.
Rats and mice were also a problem for intellectuals in society. Before the days of the printing press, paper books were rare and priceless tomes of knowledge that were difficult to replace or repair. Rats and mice used the paper in these books as a food source and as a material to build their nests.
Naturally, rats and mice were doing untold amounts of damage to libraries and institutions of learning. Teachers and librarians would keep cats around to prevent these vermin from eating their precious books. Based on the relationship between scholars and cats, Arabic scholars are often pictured alongside cats that literally guarded their knowledge.
Based on their practical uses, cats have an important place in Istanbul’s culture. The citizens of Istanbul have created practices that allow these cats to flourish. And some breeds of cats have even become synonymous with the country of Turkey.
The Unspoken Rule
One of the main reasons there are so many cats in Istanbul is that the citizens provide them with food, shelter, and water. There are many gardens and parks where people leave food and water, which draws large groups of cats.
The citizens of Istanbul have a unique, unspoken rule regarding the cats in their city: they view the cats as belonging to everyone and no one at the same time. This ensures that the cats have their independence and freedom, but it also ensures that they have food, shelter, and water whenever they need it. With a steady source of nutrition and shelter, its no wonder why there are so many cats in the city.
As a result of this unspoken rule, the cats in Istanbul are often friendly and calm, approaching strangers to be loved and to beg for morsels of food.
Turkish officials have also created laws surrounding the treatment of cats. A law was recently passed that punishes people who hurt, kill or neglect animals with jail time. Laws of the past only required people guilty of animal cruelty to pay small fines, but this step toward more serious punishments is a sign that cats are there to stay.
World Famous Felines
Some of the cats have even become world famous. There is a famous cat named Gli that resides in the Hagia Sophia, which is a beautiful mosque-turned-museum. Her adorable antics have made her an Instagram star with over 12,000 followers, and she spends her days posing for the cameras and interacting with the tourists who visit the museum.
Gli isn’t the only famous feline in Istanbul. In the ancient city of Ephesus just outside of Istanbul, there are the famous Ephesus Cats. They roam the ancient ruins as the only inhabitants of the city, taking pictures with tourists and having the occasional snuggle.
Cats have been a part of Istanbul’s culture for so long now that there are two breeds of cat that are indigenous to Turkey: the Turkish Angora and the Turkish Van. These are two sought after breeds, which cements cats’ position within Turkish society.
The cats of Istanbul have become so famous that a documentary was made about them, called “Kedi”. The documentary follows a day in the life of 7 of Istanbul’s 125,000 cats, showing how each of them interacts with the residents of the city and their personalities. If you’re interested in watching the documentary, you can see it here.
Time for Some Feline Connection
The history and culture surrounding cats in Istanbul are fascinating, and the good news is that you can experience it for yourself by visiting Turkey!
If you have any questions about Istanbul or visiting Turkey, please visit our blog.