A woman drinking tea on her door stoop drops a hot dog to the ground.
A young man at a baked potato stand collects small scraps in a plastic bowl.
A gentleman in a tan jacket leaves handfuls of cat food along the eastern wall of Hagia Sophia.
And me? I pick the slices of deli meat out of my sandwich and drop them at my feet.
That is how Istanbul’s cats are fed.
The first thing I noticed as a first time visitor to Istanbul were all the domes and minarets; the second were the cats. Lots and lots of cats!
Most cities would regard an excess of strays as a bit of a nuisance, but in Istanbul it’s a completely different story. The stray cats are treated as the city’s pets, and they are collectively fed and taken care of. The cats come and go as they please, but wherever they may find themselves – strolling the walls of the Blue Mosque or sauntering down the streets of Cihangir – you can be sure that someone will be leaving food out for them.
A little research revealed that the reason why Istanbul’s cats are well looked after may have its roots in Islam. While reading up on the issue, I came across two legends in Islam: one of a cat who saved the prophet Muhammad from a poisonous snake, and another instance of how when the prophet Muhammad found a cat sleeping on his tunic, he simply cut a piece off the fabric so as to not disturb the sleeping cat. This along with the popular saying, “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God,” may be the reason why Istanbul’s felines are so revered.
But now let’s meet some of Istanbul’s cats through photos:
The sophisticated feline who hangs out in front of the posh cafes of Istiklal Avenue.
The cat who likes to spend his mornings relaxing in a flower pot.
The shy tabby peering through the gates of Hagia Sophia.
The regal one who calls Hagia Sophia his personal residence.
The white kitty with little vampire teeth.
The one who glares when you get too close to his food.
The startled white kitten who isn’t sure whether to trust the camera wielding stranger.
The sweet cat who rubs against people’s legs outside Istanbul Archeaological Museum.
The sunbathing twins enjoying a quick nap in the morning sunshine.
The welcoming committee at the Blue Mosque.
The cat who followed us down the streets of Beyoğlu.
A plump tabby living in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia.
A black kitten with a natural white bib and white paws.
The cat who is too busy eating to pose for the camera.
The sleepy tabby taking a morning nap outside the Archaeological Museum.
The Halloween cat with the questioning look in his honey eyes.
The fur ball who naps in front of high end boutiques.
A white and marmalade kitty enjoying some cat food.
The sleepy kitty enjoying a nap along the walls of Hagia Sophia.
And lastly, the cat who stole Sam’s shirt and decided it made a really nice blanket and chew toy.
I seriously could have taken hundreds of photos of cats because they are everywhere, but hopefully you get the idea of what you can expect to find in Istanbul. While I have met lots of cats around the world, it was refreshing to see a city that really cares for its strays.
Have you ever come across a city that loves its cats?
The largest collection of Istanbul Cats photos in the world, Audrey! Love it!
Thanks. I may turn this into a series…cat photos in cities around the world. 😉
Best post ever!!!!!!!!
I’ve been to Istanbul three times and have never seen these cats. They must have known I’m a dog person. That said, this post has almost made me a cat person.
They are hard to miss, the cats are everywhere! I did also notice quite a few dogs wandering around the streets, but that was to a lesser degree.
Good collection… so cute 🙂
I love the Banksy-esque wall art too! 🙂
Thanks Helen. Yes, there was quite a bit of street art in the neighbourhood I was staying in. 🙂
I was really surprised by all the cats in Bangkok when we visited there. They were all stretched out and resting.Probably because it was so dang hot. I swear anytime I see a cat, I want to instantly pet it.
I am such a sucker for cat photos when travelling! And you’ve just reminded me of what a cool city Istanbul is – I think I will need a return visit sometime soon.
Shanghai is also very good with its cats, they can be found all over the place and particularly at the various parks in the city centre. I can’t even count how many cat photos I took during my time there.
Travelling cat ladies unite!
You should turn your Shanghai cat photos into a post! 🙂
Haha whata great idea for a post. I always noticed how many cats there were in Istanbul, but it would have never have crossed my mind to do a photo essay about them.
Oh wow! You are the cat magnet – that’s a good thing.
Love that opening photo of the little calico.
Aww I love cats and love this post! Super cute!
I love this post! I love the photos and the variety of cats, they really look great and healthy! I’m a cat lover, so I’m glad to know they are cared for in Istanbul 🙂
Most of the cats are really well taken care of. Aside from being fed by locals, I even noticed that some shops had placed little pillows for the cats to sleep on.
I absolutely love this post! The cats were an unexpected but quickly most favorite part of Istanbul (and Turkey) for me! I have great cat photos like this from Ephesus, too.
I guess cats are a trend across all of Turkey. 😉 I didn’t make it to Ephesus this time around sadly. How did you enjoy it there?
I just spent some time in Istanbul and was also struck by the number of cats in the city and how healthy they all look. I asked abut it and was told that “Turkish people are compassionate people. They don’t want the cats to be sent to a pound and destroyed, so everyone cares for them collectively.” A city/country that cares so much about its animals is a special place.
I’m Turkish and I have a lot of relatives that used to have or still have a lot of animals back in the days- cows, cats, dogs, goats, chickens, ducks, a donkey, rabbits- I grew around animals,fruit trees, strewberries, tomatoes and other plants. As a lot of Turks I come from a family that at some point of their history were working in the agriculture, had a farm and used their own production to feed the whole big family. I will always remember how my relatives were always feeling sad and prayed for the soul of the animal that was about to get cut. I will always remember how much they loved all their animals and how they looked after them as their own kids. Love for animals is in Turkish people’s culture as most of us believe every living creature has a soul and should be respected as God’s creation… Of course there is also people who hate animals but you know that every nation has it’s own share of stupid, bad, ignorant people.
I love the kitten photo! also the one sleeping on his side. 🙂 How cute. I’m majorly allergic to cats though, which is pretty sad, they’re so lovable!
That’s too bad that you’re allergic! Especially living in Korea where there are so many cat cafes!
great article! I love the photos, you got some really good ones! I would have never guessed that for religious reasons the cats are not best, thanks for doing the research, you have allowed me to tick off my “learn interesting fact” for the day 😛
What an amazing idea – a cat collective! It seems to foreign in the West, the idea of something or someone belonging to the community as opposed to an individual. I absolutely love it!
Pretty sure I have a cat problem… Thanks for helping feed the addiction! ;D The first “sophisticated feline” is my favorite!
Not sure whether it is my imagination but there seems to be an increase in cats everywhere I go in Turkey. It is the local street dogs that are the problem though
Screw the food and the history, I now have my real reason to visit Istanbul – teh kittehs! 🙂
Oh, and to answer your question, the village of Air Batang in the Tioman Islands in Malaysia does an outstanding job of caring for their stray cats … so adorable!
Oh my gosh – they’re so cute! And they all look quite well-fed. Although I have a feeling the cat with the vampire teeth is drinking people’s blood to look like that…
This breaks my heart in the very best way possible.
I love the cat in the flower pot.
Brb– heading to the cat cafe here because now I need to get my own fix.
But really, these are some super cute kitty pictures!
Argh these guys are ridiculously cute! I’d forgotten how adorable the Turkish cats were – thanks for reminding me 🙂 Now getting on the hunt for cuter South American specimens…
Great photos, the cats look lovely! Didn’t know you were such a cat lover. I’m more into dogs. P.S. I’m a proud owner of a puppy :).
All of those cats look so healthy and well cared for. Great pics.
I love the idea of a city where everybody looks after strays! In Bali there were cats everywhere and I noticed that most of us tourists looked after them (people would buy cat food and leave it in little metal trays outside of their bungalows etc) but the locals were largely indifferent to them. I think if there hadn’t been so many tourists around then many of these cats wouldn’t have survived. So to hear of a city where the locals love the cats as much as the tourists is really refreshing.
Also on the Muslim-cat connection – I’m not sure if this has any relevance but when you were in Thailand did you go to Koh Panyee, the floating village in Phang Nga Bay? It is a Muslim village and because of that no dogs are allowed in the village at all. Therefore everybody has cats as pets instead.
I never knew that is is a religious thing in Turkey, but I am so glad that the cats are looked after. Street animals are always something that really upset me during travels.
Amazing images and story! There is something so beautiful about the relationship between the city and its’ cats! The explanation is wonderful and I loved the inclusion of the story about Muhammad and the sleeping! The tale of the tunic will stay with me!
So cute! I can’t believe how many cats there really are! I think my favorite ones are the regal cat and the black kitten 🙂 Interesting to learn a bit about the relationship between cats and Islam as well!
Incredible images. This post has killed it, its my best article on your blog. Thanks
I feel like I just made a lifelong friend. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who saves left overs for friendly felines. There isn’t a stray I haven’t tried to pet or whisk away for a life of 8-hr naps and overflowing food bowl. Good for you!!!
Just came across your blog planning for a trip to Thailand. Been looking through and enjoying your posts and pictures!
Wanted to know what camera you use.
Cats are lovable creatures for me! I used to have 2 cats in my house when I was young. They are sweet and appreciative to anything that we can give. I’m just curious, if there’s a lot of cats in Istanbul, how do people deal with cats’ poops along their ways? I know that cat’s poops smells really bad so no one would want to accidentally step on it.
I like a city that takes care of their street cats.
Thanks for sharing these, Audrey. Beautiful photos and a great story. My wife and I are in Istanbul now (sorry to have missed you, we’d love to have met up). Cats are, indeed, all over the place; I can’t decide if there are more of them here or in Rome. Travelers like to photograph them. It’s fascinating and reassuring to see how people collectively care for them even as we keep hearing about various scams taking place at the same time.
Dogs complement the straylife picture here. On our second night we walked down Istiklal avenue and saw at Galatasaray a throng of people watching a buskers’ performance and an even bigger throng watching a huge lab standing off against a cat hissing on a ledge. Just this morning at 5 (don’t ask) we walked across Taksim Square where we rushed to lose a lone hound who was walking around barking at every person, pigeon, cat, and car in sight. Other than that, the dogs have been fine, though perhaps not as photogenic as your cats…
Flowerpot cat! Can I keep him?
I definitely need to visit Istanbul now…
awww soooooo cute!!
The cats look clean and healthy too.
The city sure takes care of them.
Love this post!
This post is all kinds of adorable.
I feel like the crazy cat lady in me would definitely enjoy Istanbul. I love cats!
I shared my food with cats in the Cihangir neighborhood, where many of them were hungry. I felt so sad when the younger ones didn’t get their share. Even dry bread was gobbled down. What happens to these beautiful animals in the winter time when the weather turns cold? Where do they go to keep warm or to sleep? My 2 feral cats don’t know how good they have it.
Brings back great memories of Turkey
Beautiful article. As a self-professed cat lady living in the Middle East, cats were one of the first things I noticed around here too. And when I went on to read about the phenomenon, I found similar connections to Islam–what an ineresting backdrop. TO go even further back, apparently the stories in the Quran were influenced by old Egyptian mythology and its feline goddesses. Hence the cat admiration all across the Middle East and North Africa. Isn’t it fascinating how so many of our common practices have such old and incredible beginnings?
And with that I say ciao miaow.
These kittens photos are amazing, I really need to go to Istanbul and Turkey in general, I think the only problem with that it’s be having troubles leaving without taking as many cats as possible with me 🙂
Loved seeing these cats throughout Turkey. Lots of cats in Buenos Aires and in Chile as well. Recently spent time in Peru, where dogs seem to rule. They all meet in the morning, hang out together during the day, and return to guard the home for the evening, according to our guide! Cats stay indoors.
I was just in Istanbul and saw all the dogs and cats. When I came back I googled this, because I wanted to know what the story is for all the well-fed animals that don’t seem to belong to anybody. Your post was the first that I came upon. Loved it! Wish all religions and cultures could have that much respect for animals. Unfortunately where I am from it is the absolute opposite. I mentioned your post in my blog, hope you don’t mind.