Cats, or kedi, as they are called in Turkish, are everywhere in Istanbul. In a country once ruled by sultans and kings, cats rule now. Estimates as to how many stray cats there are in Istanbul run from several hundred thousand up to a million. No doubt about it: Istanbul is a kitty city. Turks love their feline residents. They are not just tolerated; they are adored. They don’t always seem totally feral, nor do they seem totally tame; they seem somewhere in between. Sometimes they are very friendly and sometimes they are very skittish. They are like people: they all have their distinct and different personalities. You simply cannot walk down a street without seeing cats lounging anywhere and everywhere. Cats are part of the landscape. Cats hang out on the steps of mosques, monuments, and museums. They wander into businesses and restaurants. A pretty little black and white cat jumped on my lap at lunch earlier this week. He seemed appreciative of Rick’s leftover baklava. I went out this morning with a Ziploc bag in my pocket in case I wanted to bring leftovers from lunch to feed to any cats I saw along the way. It turned out that lunch was sea bass and I was concerned about bones getting stuck in a kitty’s throat so I left the carcass on my plate. I left the restaurant thinking how any cat on the street would have said, “Lady, give me a little credit. I am a creature of the streets, a city kitty. I can handle a little fish skeleton.”
Residents stop to feed them, stroke them, and look after them. They provide shelter in bad weather. Some groups are trying to spay and neuter as many of the cats as they can. The other day, when we were on the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar, I watched a repairman playing with a little kitten. Hurt one of the city’s cats and you will pay for the crime. Istanbulites won’t tolerate any cat crimes. Honestly, I believe the wrath of the citizens might be worse than anything the police might do. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that they love their cats.
I well remember seeing legions of cats at Ephesus when we were here in 2015, but didn’t remember seeing them in Istanbul. How I missed them is beyond me, but I remember how they were everywhere we looked at Ephesus. There were cats stretched out among the ruins there and food dishes in the rest rooms. But this time in Istanbul, we have seen cat food and water bowls in front of many businesses. I have read that there are cat food vending machines around the city and that the residents gladly drop a few coins to feed their feline friends. I know that when we return to Istanbul (and we will), I will probably smuggle in a little Meow Mix or Little Friskies. When our driver dropped us off at the Four Seasons Bosporus late last evening, there was a sleeping kitty on the bench just outside the hotel door and the doormen had no intention of disturbing the cat nap.
I have read that the Prophet Muhammad was fond of cats. When the Ottomans came along, they recruited cats to help alleviate their problem with rats in the city of Istanbul and the cats took it from there, establishing themselves as the city’s mascots and nuzzling their way into the hearts of its citizenry. It seems that they have even clawed their way into the souvenir market. You can pick up cat art and even a cat shaped pillow to rest your head upon for your own cat naps. Our wonderful guide shares my affinity for cats and we have taken lots of pictures of kitties. I want to share some photos of the famous cats of Istanbul. For even more feline fun, go to YouTube and look for the fabulous documentary called Kedi. If you like cats, you will love the stories of seven of Istanbul’s street cats. If you don’t already love this magnificent city, you will definitely love it after meeting the generous and kind people of Istanbul and their four legged little rulers.