A cat sitting in the foreground with a mosque in the background
Burak Budak/Shutterstock.com

With estimates ranging between one hundred thousand to one million at any given time, Istanbul has a lot of cats — way too many to pet in a single visit.

One reason is that the prophet Mohammed was very fond of felines, a reverence that has been continued by Muslims for centuries. In a famous tale, a cat named Muezza falls asleep in Muhammad’s robe. Instead of shooing the cat away, Muhammad cuts his robe to leave it to sleep in peace. Because of the prophet’s affection for Muezza — and all cats — many Muslims continue to show them love.

They were also a great solution for keeping pests away. Rodents not only contaminate foods but could also destroy important prints and books. So cats became a welcome and useful addition to households. While there are other methods for pest control today, cats have already marked their territory in the city — and in the hearts of its residents.

While in Istanbul, visitors notice that the cats are generally well-fed and in good condition. Residents have placed cat houses throughout the city and leave cat food in the streets. Cats freely walk into mosques, stores, and cafes with no retaliation. Restaurant owners even give them scraps of food, and tourists, instantly under their spell, can’t resist their begging eyes either.

Cats were even the subject of a fantastic Turkish film released in 2016. Kedi is a feel-good documentary about the cats of Istanbul and the people that interact with them. It’s a love letter to Istanbul as seen through the eyes of cats, sure to melt anyone’s heart.

It is clear that the people living in Istanbul have a special relationship with the cats that live there, too. While no city is perfect, Istanbul’s continued love for its feline friends reflects the humanity and warmth of its people.

We first published this article in our October 1 newsletter.

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