Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Cats of Istanbul

We have been joking about making a calendar with this title ever since we got here. Cats are the unofficial mascots of this city. They are everywhere. We have never seen so many well cared for strays. People put out cat food all over the city. But more than that, it is the kindness that Istanbul residents bestow on the feline population that truly impresses us. Some cats probably have regular homes, but there must be many times more living on the streets in this fairly temperate city. People seem to adopt street cats near where they work, feeding them, playing with them, even brushing them. We once saw a security guard, in the midst of the busy square where he was stationed, retrieve a cat brush from his booth in order to brush a cat, who was obviously familiar with the practice. Doormen at hotels sneak to planters to pet their cat neighbors. There is a cat wandering the Hagia Sophia that visitors know by name. People are so consistently tender that the strays here are nearly all tame.

Islamic tradition holds cats in high esteem. Muhammad was a cat lover, and there are stories passed down about Muhammad and the regard he had for his cat, Muezza. Muhammad purportedly said that cats should be treated as members of the family, and mistreating a cat was punishable by torture in hell.

One of the strangest things we have seen in Istanbul was the mass gathering of cats under a park gazebo. Someone had placed a large piece of carpet there, and a couple dozen cats were all napping together. We have also seen a heap of cats in the corner of the Fatih cemetery, an area with a large and well-loved population of felines.

It seems mysterious that the cats often look so clean, especially all the white-furred varieties. There is a special breed here called the Turkish Van cat that is mostly white and has a supposed love for water and swimming. We have seen some white cats for sale in cages in the pet market, and perhaps these are the special water-loving Vans. Even if they could swim the width of the Bosphorus, charging money for a cat in this city seems hilarious to us. Maybe it is the ultimate test of the Turkish salesman: if you can sell a cat in Istanbul, you can sell anything.

(Special thanks for the photography contributions of Kris Pelletier, Dale Castelucci and Colleen O'Donnell)

In a linen shop at the Grand bazaar 

Colleen and friend in Suleymaniye Mosque Cemetery.

Jordan and Aimee with the pride at the Fatih cemetery.

On the shoreline of Prince's Island 

Our friend Dale with more than thirty cats vying for a spot on the carpet in this park gazebo. 

Pafa student Lucia with a kitty near Chora Church. 

Pafa student Galen outside of the Suleymaniye Mosque.

Near our Balat studios. 

Heap of cats near the Fatih mosque on a cool Fall day. 

At the Fener bus stop 


  1. How wonderful to see that there is a place where cats are revered and cared for, in so many parts of the world, stray cats are looked upon as a nuisance or disposable........

  2. nice fotos!!! I was in Istanbul, but I didnt take much photos from cats!! I wanted to show to my family and I founde your blog! bye