Turkish city can’t quit delighting in felines; ‘like being a cow in India’
ISTANBUL—In this ancient city once ruled by sultans and emperors, the real king is the humble alley cat.Who knew? See the whole article for pics, videos, links and more.
In historic neighborhoods along Istanbul’s Bosporus and Golden Horn waterways, an army of furry-tailed street cats are fed, sheltered and cooed at by an adoring public. Hundreds of fleece-lined houses have been erected at street corners by cat-mad residents. Most are flanked by makeshift feeding stations fashioned from yogurt pots or plastic bottles and overflowing with tasty scraps.
In some districts, ground-floor windowsills are lined with pillows and blankets, offering a cozy place for the discerning kitty to recline. In restaurants and cafes, cats are often part of the furniture, curling up next to dining tables or patiently waiting for leftovers from patrons.
Visitors to the city can dine at one of several cat-theme cafes or stay a night at the Stray Cat Hostel. During a 2009 visit here, President Barack Obama paused to pet Gli, one of dozens of cats living in Hagia Sophia, a museum that was once a Byzantine church and Ottoman mosque.
“Being a cat in Istanbul is like being a cow in India,” said Sibel Resimci, a musician and confessed cat junkie who says her husband often walks nearly 2 miles to work rather than disturb street cats sleeping on his moped. “For generations, they’ve had a special place in the city’s soul.”
Now, Istanbul’s feline fetish is adapting to the digital age.
Social media sites offering daily pictures of the city’s cutest street cats boast tens of thousands of followers. Web developers have created apps to help adopt and locate users’ favorite kitties. Local filmmakers have released a trailer for their coming feature film “Nine Lives” on video sharing platform Vimeo. Wildly popular YouTube tutorials show Istanbul residents how to build shelters and feeding stations so cats can nap and nibble in maximum comfort. The #catsofistanbul hashtag on photo-sharing website Instagram has more than 50,000 posts of cats nonchalantly—and almost always adorably—doing their thing.
Cats have a special place in Islam: Muslim lore tells of a cat thwarting a poisonous snake that had approached the Prophet Muhammad. One teaching tells that he found a cat sleeping on his shawl and opted to cut the fabric rather than disturb the animal. A popular saying goes: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”
The feline fetish is also functional: In the 19th century, cats were bred in large numbers for pest control to kill a rat population thriving in the city’s expanding sewage system. Before that, they helped Istanbul avoid the worst of a bubonic plague epidemic spread by rats.
Cats are even hard-wired into the city’s iconography and political culture.
In the bowels of Istanbul metro stations, pictures of waterside cityscapes feature cats posing alongside fisherman, in some cases munching the daily catch. Cat cartoons are used to satirize politicians: a digitized picture of a mustachioed sour puss named Recep Tayyip Erdocat was shared thousands of times last year, in a not-too subtle effort to lampoon Turkey’s pugilistic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. [...]