Istanbul’s Stray Cats

Istanbul’s Stray Cats

Stray cats of Istanbul, Turkey
Stray cats of Istanbul, Turkey

Taking a moment to stop just outside of Sultanahmet, sweat poured down my forehead as I gingerly placed my long sleeve shirt on the ground while reaching into my backpack to grab a bottle of water. Moments later when I looked down at my feet, a ginger coated cat was rolling around on top of it kicking its back feet against the sleeves and chewing on the collar while purring loudly.

I would expect this kind of scene at the house of friend; however, in Istanbul, feral cats are not ‘merely’ strays – they’re revered.

As cat lovers ourselves (in case you haven’t seen the plethora of cat cafe videos we create) this was one of the more pleasant and certainly unexpected surprises of Istanbul.

We had dreamed about wandering around the Blue Mosque and getting lost meandering through the Grand Bazaar. Our mouths watered whenever we thought of sinking our teeth into baklava or Turkish Delight. Having opportunities to pet, feed and interact with cats on the streets of Istanbul was something totally out of the blue.

There was the time when a mother cat and her kittens graciously allowed us to get close at the train station or the time when a saucy little kitty batted a slice of deli meat out of my hand while I was sitting outside to enjoy my lunch.

Over the nearly two weeks we spent in Istanbul the memories really started to mount.

Upon further research it became apparent that stray cats are highly regarded by residents of Istanbul. Β Islamic legend has it that cats saved the prophet Muhammad from a poisonous snake: Β “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

Most of the strays in Istanbul looked well fed and healthy – sporting a luminous coat; however, some cats – especially in some recently condemned neighborhoods – were mangy and appeared outwardly sick.

The following is a photo essay and travel video dedicated to Istanbul’s cats:

Travel Video:

Photo Essay:

A group of cats feed on a generous bounty of food left just outside of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. If you look closely you'll notice a timid kitten with cut eyes in the background.

A group of cats feed on a generous bounty of food left just outside of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. If you look closely you’ll notice a timid kitten with cute eyes in the background.

A potted cat. I spotted this particular cat on more than one occasion - each and every time - in this same pot.

A potted cat. I spotted this particular cat on more than one occasion – each and every time – in this same pot.

It's just that kind of day! A cat yawning just outside of a small shop.

It’s just that kind of day! A cat yawning just outside of a small Turkish shop in Istanbul, Turkey.

The ultimate sign of respect and affection is when a cat is rolling around on the ground in front of you.

The ultimate sign of respect and affection is when a cat is rolling around on the ground in front of you.

Well, why not? This easy riding cat was making itself quite at home on this motorcycle.

Well, why not? This easy riding cat was making itself quite at home on this motorcycle.

This white and black cat was basking in the sunlight.

This white and black cat was basking in the sunlight.

In order to spot a cat we didn't have to wander or look very far. In fact, at certain times of the day - especially early in the morning - it was more common to be outnumbered by cats.

In order to spot a cat we didn’t have to wander or look very far. In fact, at certain times of the day – especially early in the morning – it was more common to be outnumbered by cats.

This gorgeous cat was sound asleep on the bench as we waited to catch the Light Metro.

This gorgeous cat was sound asleep on the bench as we waited to catch the Light Metro.

Nearby the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, was a designated feeding area for the cats where tasty cat treats were scattered for them.

Nearby the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, was a designated feeding area for the cats where tasty cat treats were scattered for them.

I had to look up to spot this cut little kitty with distinct whiskers.

I had to look up to spot this cute little kitty with distinct whiskers.

This gorgeous cat with a marmalade coat was likely looking for a few scraps of food or somebody to give it attention and affection.

This gorgeous cat with a marmalade coat was likely looking for a few scraps of food or somebody to give it attention and affection.

Here is a shot of Audrey taking a photo of this hungry little kitty eating.

Here is a shot of Audrey taking a photo of this hungry little kitty eating.

Although many of the cats on the streets of Istanbul are friendly they often have a bit of wild look in their eyes.

Although many of the cats on the streets of Istanbul are friendly they often have a bit of wild look in their eyes.

I wish more cities (countries) would take better care of their stray animals by providing food and assistance for them.

I wish more cities (countries) would take better care of their stray animals by providing food and assistance for them.

Here is Audrey petting a cute cat. It won't be long before I convert her from a dog lover to a crazy cat lady. I'm already working my magic on her slowly over time ;)

Here is Audrey petting a cute cat. It won’t be long before I convert her from a dog lover to a crazy cat lady. I’m already working my magic on her slowly over time πŸ˜‰

This tuxedo cat is striking a rather regal pose ;)

This tuxedo cat is striking a rather regal pose πŸ˜‰

This cute kitten was a little timid but let me take a photo from a distance.

This cute kitten was a little timid but let me take a photo from a distance.

Not all of the cats were friendly towards people. As I approached this cat it stood its ground and I didn't get a vibe that it would appreciate being petted.

Not all of the cats were friendly towards people. As I approached this cat it stood its ground and I didn’t get a vibe that it would appreciate being petted.

One thing I noticed distinctly different from Southeast Asia (where cats tended to look the same - scrawny and with stumpy tails) is that the cats of Istanbul are of all different shapes, colors, sizes and breeds.

One thing I noticed distinctly different from Southeast Asia (where cats tended to look the same – scrawny and with stumpy tails) is that the cats of Istanbul are of all different shapes, colors, sizes and breeds.

This kitty was especially friendly and closed its eyes and purred when we stroked its head.

This kitty was especially friendly and closed its eyes and purred when we stroked its head.

This cat reminded me a scrapper I used to know when I lived on Vancouver Island. You can notice the scratch marks under its face and the feral look in its eye.

This cat reminded me of a scrapper I used to know when I lived on Vancouver Island. You can notice the scratch marks under its face and the feral look in its eye.

Two cats are always better than one ;)

Two cats are always better than one πŸ˜‰

Unfortunately not all of the cats look completely healthy. This particular cat is clearly having some health issues as noticed by its runny eye and snotty nose.

Unfortunately not all of the cats look completely healthy. This particular cat is clearly having some health issues as noticed by its runny eye and snotty nose.

Are you a cat lover? Would you like to roam around the streets of Istanbul petting cats? Let me know in the comments below:

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  1. says: Lavina

    This photo essay is gorgeous! I’m not a cat person(sorry!) because my grandma has asthma so never got a chance to have them!
    But I definitely agree, a pic with a cat in it, does look awesome πŸ™‚

  2. says: Glenda Mitchell

    I have just returned after one month travelling through Athens, Greek Islands and Turkey. I was amazed by the number of stray cats and dogs in both countries. I was touched, especially in Istanbul, in the way these animals are cared for. A man was administering eye cream to newly born kittens outside the Grand Bazaar and there were trays of kibnle and dishes of water left in most places. I know there is a programme where the animals are supposed to be captured, neutred and returned but it is obvious that there are just too many strays to keep on top of the programme. The number of puppies on the Gallipoli tour was heartbreaking – they all craved our attention but unfortunately we had no food for them. I hope the cycle can be broken. Much better than being put into shelters and euthanised.

  3. says: Cat Lover

    That poor cat with the runny eye. Were able to alert someone about it? I hope that you were able to take the poor cat to a vet or brought it to someone that could. That little kitty that you described as timid looks as if it may have a problem with it’s right eye as well.

  4. says: Ross

    Had no idea that Istanbul has been taken over by cats. That black and white kitten looks very sad. In Malta they have stray cats in the park and even have a ‘stray cat feeding point’!

  5. I love the strays in Istanbul! I spent hours with them and was so surprised how healthy the majority of them were. In Rio there is a park where there are over 100 strays that are really tame and come up for a pat. The locals must look after them too as about 90 % were in good health and there were trays of cat biscuits and water everywhere – my kinda place (I am definitely a crazy cat lady)

  6. says: Aubrey

    Fantastic cat shots, just the thing to perk up my slow Tuesday afternoon! I love spotting cats when I travel and it’s even better when they’re friendly. I met a few at the Alhambra in Granada but, while very cute, they were definitely wary of humans.

  7. says: Lunaguava

    Great photos! I remember the many stray cats from my time in Istanbul – even inside Hagia Sophia! – and they left a lingering impression. Love that most of them seem reasonably healthy – having the Prophet decree them creatures to be protected certainly helped. Safe travels!

  8. says: Heather

    Too much cuteness for one post! Shanghai also had a lot of stray cats which looked well-fed and healthy. They’d turn up everywhere from parks to shop windows. I suspect they were the city’s free pest control service as I didn’t see a single rodent during my entire two years there. I agree that more cities should follow suit!

  9. says: AJ @TheBlondeTravels

    Oh man, I loved the cats in Sultanahmet. I actually became quite obsessed with the stray dogs as well, which were shockingly friendly (when I saw them at first, I worried they would have a “pack attitude”). One of them ended up adopting me for the night while at dinner, and led us on a late night walk around all of Sultanahmet’s attractions. Another night, an entire friendly pack escorted us on our walk home. Was very impressed by how healthy all of the strays looked compared to many other places, and pleased to see they put food and water out in many locations.

  10. says: Corinne

    I love all Turkish animals…but yes, especially the cats! We’ve been loved on all over the country and it’s such a good feeling, don’t you think?

  11. Cat cuteness overload! Tioman Island off the east coast of Malaysia is much the same in this respect, lots of cats taken care of by the community. The cats stay healthy and the community get to be graced by their awesomeness!

  12. says: Maria Falvey

    Only recently did I connect in a meaningful way with a cat – Siamese… must be those beautiful blue eyes.
    If you guys sit still long enough, you could easily put together a roadside circus of cats. Think about it, could be good money it that. *grin*

  13. says: Mike

    Wow, your photos are out of this world awesome, Samuel and Audrey. I like that there are so many animal lovers around the world and most of the kitties appear to not be starving, huh?

  14. says: Mack Sperling

    I was in Istanbul for the first time last year and loved the cats. I took many pictures of the cats also. Terrific city.

  15. says: mee

    I was surprised by the amount of stray cats too when I was in Istanbul! In fact it wasn’t just Istanbul, but the whole Turkey. I’ve been thinking to dedicate a photo-essay post just for the stray cats in Turkey. You beat me to it πŸ™‚

  16. says: zoomingjapan

    I’m totally a cat lover! πŸ™‚
    Here in Japan there are also many stray cats, but cats are also very popular.
    There’s even a “Cat Island”, a small island where you’ll find more cats than people!
    Actually, that island was cut off for several days when the tsunami in March 2011 hit and nobody knew if the people and cats survived, but luckily they did.

    If you’re interested in ever visiting that so-called “Cat Island”, then you can find all the necessary information here:
    http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/tashirojima-cat-island/

  17. This is a lovely photo essay! I found similar situation when I visited Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, in many other European countries that I have visited there was an abundance of stray cats that were sadly not as well treated.

    Travelling to these countries did help me cure my fear of cats however!

  18. For as silly a reason as it may be, this makes me want to visit Istanbul even more! It’s been on my list for a while, but seeing all these cats really makes me want to visit. I’ll be in Spain this year, so I’m hoping to find an inexpensive flight over there. Thanks, Samuel!