Stray Cats in Istanbul

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As I walked through the streets of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s historic center, I noticed that there were quite a few cats milling about.  That’s nothing special — you see that in most cities.  Probably Rome more than anywhere else.

But upon further inspection, I realized that unlike the frail, weak stray cats that fill most cities, these stray cats were very well-fed and absolutely gorgeous with thick, glossy coats.

How beautiful is that cat?

I didn’t get it.  Why is every single stray cat in Istanbul so cuddly?  I asked my Facebook fans.

On a tip from Anil, I learned that residents of Istanbul have a special relationship with the stray cats.  You can read the whole piece here — it’s fascinating.

It turns out that much of it has to do with Islam.  Islam preaches tolerance and compassion for all creatures, but cats are held in even higher regard.  Cats frequently pop up in the Koran, including one saving the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and a popular saying is, “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

This translates into locals caring for the stray cats, leaving them food, welcoming them into their homes and businesses, and making a place for them in the community.  It’s a good deal — for many Istanbul residents, taking care of strays is pretty much like having a cat without the responsibilities.

Turkey is also very forward-thinking in animal rights, and in 2004 passed an animal rights act protecting all street animals.

During my time in Istanbul, I got to know several of the cats in the neighborhood, including the cat who hung around our favorite kebab stand every night.

If you’re going to be spending time in Istanbul, don’t just drop into Sultanahmet to see the monuments –take time to walk around the side streets and get to know the stray cats.  And if you’re considering getting a cat, it might not a bad idea to book Turkey vacation homes rentals here and try out the “having a cat without having a cat” thing for yourself.

As aloof as cats are, these ones are pretty friendly.

For the most part, anyway.

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23 thoughts on “Stray Cats in Istanbul”

  1. I love kitties! So it’s nice to hear that the people in Istanbul are so friendly to their strays. Though, if I lived there, I’d probably run the risk of becoming a crazy cat lady! Lol.

  2. Wow…those are some good looking cats. They look friendly – can you pet them? Or are they the surly, mean type? Do you have any Istanbul ‘souvenirs’ inflicted by these cats?

  3. “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God”

    …well there are a lot of mosques in Istabul…haha

    I love the cat in the second photo. He looks so curious about why you are taking a photo of him.

  4. It reminded me of Pompei where you have a lot of stray dogs roaming free on the archeological site because people had a special relationship with them back in the day. You can even check out the first
    “Beware of dog” signs!

  5. This is quite a touching story. I’m very fond of cats and I’ve seen how mistreated they are in other parts of the world. I’m really pleased to hear they’re revered in Istanbul.

  6. I hope we had the same in Egypt, although there is a majority of muslims trust me they don’t treat stray cats, or animals in general, with any pity…
    Some even think that owning a dog is shameful and defiles the owner and his house (yes it could get that crazy with the religious superstition in Egypt)

  7. They are really beautiful cats…. And I didn’t know that they were so gorgeous stra cats in Turkey…. I am a muslim and yes we do, normally, respect every things which is alive (human beings, animals, plants, ….) but this thing is amazing

  8. Aw, these little guys are so cute! I actually noticed that myself, but had no idea why. I saw people leaving little saucers of milk out for kittens everywhere and didn’t really take a second thought to it… very interesting!

  9. I fell in love with a street cat when I lived on Turkey’s south west coast. I adopted her and ‘Sultan’ ended up moving to the UK with me and she now lives with my mother. Lots of the cats in Turkey have long fine hair. They are so beautiful. Committing to them is an expensive process if it involves quarantine though people, be warned!

  10. I saw tons of stray dogs and cats on my recent trip to the Caribbean, and this article inspired me to write up a post of my own about them. I don’t even really like cats but for some reason the strays began to grow on me. Glad to see most were pretty well fed in Istanbul, too!

  11. Wow, I had no idea that this part of culture in Istanbul even existed! I was there for a week in 2010 and didn’t notice the cats at all?! I’ll make sure to hunt them down next time I go. The photos are super cute, too!

  12. On a trip to Istanbul last year I did notice that, but I lived in Cairo for a while about a year ago, and I did not find that the cats were well taken care of at all. It may have something to do with Islam, I don’t doubt it, but the strays in Cairo were just that, stray.

  13. I went to Jakarta Indonesia. Same thing.
    I love cats! I Don’t think it’s because of the
    people taking care of them, they hang out
    outdoor restaurants and get food from
    tourists. Namely me:) who can resist giving
    some of your chicken to that little black
    and white kitten on your lap?

  14. I’m heading back to visit Istanbul in the end of this week and I hope to see the stray cats, because on my previous short visit i was’nt able to see them around. Thanks for the article Kate 🙂

  15. Wow, you guys,are really all missing the point…these animals are exposed to severe cold, heat, dehydration, starvation, attack by other animals, no health care. This is not a happy, happy awesome thing you seem to believe. These animals are suffering and do not have a comfortable life. Come on, get a clue, do something to get these animals off the street!!

  16. I live in Istanbul. To feed a cat is like a tradition in Istanbul. Every shop, apartment, house have a cat in front of the door. Even Hagia Sophia has a cat. Search the google as “Ayasofya Cat” and see “Gli”. The cat who meets the president of United States. 🙂
    I always carry a box of cat food in my car. Me and my wife addicted to feed them. Actually there is a little colony living around our apartment and we named them. We have been watching their lives for years. They are such smart creatures. The more you watch, the more you admire them. Their instinct is just perfect. Such survivors!

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