Once you have taken in just how beautiful Istanbul is, it is impossible not to notice how many street cats there are (estimates put it at over 30,000!) yet unlike the raggedy strays we see here in Yangon, Istanbuls street cats appear, for the most part, a shining example of health and contentedness.
There is certainly no shortage of affection for these friendly felines (check out the Cats of Istanbul facebook page with some 81,000 members) even former President Barack Obama, on his 2009 trip to the City, was photographed succumbing to the charms of Gli, the resident cat at the Aya Sophia. Obama (being a canny PR man or just simply a down right nice guy?) was so taken with Gli that he had a standing order set up via the American consulate in Istanbul in order to contribute money (I believe around $100 a month) to Gli’s upkeep – hard to imagine something like that happening these days isn’t it?
So why are there so many cats in Istanbul, and why are they so well loved? There is plenty to be found on the subject online, like this article from the Economist
Turkey is not unique among predominately Muslim countries for honouring its cats, which are considered ritually clean animals in Islam. In the hadith, the collected sayings and actions of Muhammad, there are numerous examples of the Prophet’s fondness for cats. By one account, Muhammad cut off his sleeve when he had to rise for prayers so as to not disturb a feline that had curled up on his robe for a nap. In another tale, the pet cat of Abu Hurayrah (literally “father of the kitten”) saved Muhammad from an attack by a deadly serpent. Muhammad purportedly blessed the cat in gratitude, giving cats the ability to always land on their feet.
One also can’t help but notice the diversity of breeds that you see on the streets of Istanbul, hardly surprising given the historical importance of the port in Istanbul, with many different breeds of cats believed to have been aboard trading ships from all around the world over the centuries.
If you are a cat lover, I highly recommend watching Kedi an award winning 2016 documentary that traces the daily lives of 7 cats throughout the streets of Istanbul, its a rather lovely watch and it really gives a great insight into street cats in Istanbul.