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The Cats of Istanbul

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It was a common sight in Istanbul. You’d be standing in front of some amazing building like the Hagia Sophia or the Galata Tower, and all the tourists would be completely ignoring it. Their cameras were trained on something cuter than some ancient old structure: a playful pack of mewling kittens.

Istanbul Cat Blog

Istanbul’s street cats are a phenomenon. They’re everywhere in the city; balancing on windowsills, cowering beneath cars, slinking between gravestones, sunning on benches, even relaxing in churches. And despite yourself, despite having sworn that, today, you would not be taking any more cat photos… that the 50,000 pics you’ve already snapped are quite enough… and that, to be honest, your cat picture obsession is starting to alarm you… you see another! And it’s chasing a butterfly, or making a grumpy face, or wrestling with its equally cute little sister, and you just can’t resist.

The city loves its cats. Almost as frequently as the animals themselves, you’ll find little plastic containers of food that people have set out for them. You’ll run across tiny cat houses built to provide shelter during storms. In many other cities, they’d be considered a pest and “dealt with” in some nefarious way, but Istanbul focuses its efforts on caring for them.

During our three months in the city, we must have photographed hundreds of cats. We got to know our neighborhood crew fairly well… there was Stink Face, Whitey and Scab Licker. In May, kittens started appearing, and we even rescued a baby who’d been abandoned by its mother. We have so many cat pictures, we started a Tumblr photo series called Daily Cat Istanbul.

The cats were an unexpected highlight of our 91 days in Istanbul. If you’re in the city, make sure to play with a few… and if you swing by Çukurcuma, say “hi” to Scab Licker for us. He’ll be the one licking his scabs.

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July 12, 2013 at 11:13 am Comments (21)

Kitten Drama at Gülhane Park

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An afternoon spent exploring Gülhane Park reached an unexpected conclusion when we discovered an abandoned baby kitten and attempted to reunite it with its mother. “Attempted” being the operative word; nature, we were bitterly reminded, is not a Disney movie.

Kitten Gülhane Istanbul

Gülhane Park surrounds Topkapı Palace and is one of the few green areas in the old city. It’s a lovely place, particularly in April with the blossoming of Istanbul’s famous tulips, and we had a nice time here, sitting on the bench in the sun, visiting a museum dedicated to the History of Islamic Science, and drinking tea at Set Üstü Çay Bahçesi, which has a view that overlooks the mouth of the Golden Horn at the very tip of the peninsula.

Leaving the park, we were detained by an insistent and desperate cry from above. About ten feet up the wall which borders the Archaeology Museum, a kitten had trapped itself on a ledge. It was clinging on, but would eventually fall. Using Jürgen as a stool, I managed to clamber up the wall and grab the kitten by its scruff. The mewling, terrified thing was no more than a couple days old, and couldn’t even open its eyes.

It must have fallen from above, so we carried it to the gates of the Archaeology Museum. The staff immediately agreed to help us and, together, we located the kitten’s mother. She was on a different ledge in the wall; about fifteen feet below us, and ten feet above where we had found her kitten. And she was nursing other babies. “Now”, I thought, “comes the joyful reunification scene!” We fetched a rope and a bucket, and placed the kitten carefully inside. “Are you excited to go home?” I whispered into its ear. “Mommy will be so happy to see you!”

Mommy, though, was not happy. Mommy was a cold-hearted beast. We had managed to lower and overturn the bucket, but after taking a brief look inside, Mommy turned away. I couldn’t believe it. Here was her baby, still blind, mewling its head off just a foot away, and she remained absolutely unmoved. After ten minutes, we lost hope and hoisted the kitten back up.

It wasn’t the cheerful ending we’d been expecting, but a guy working at the museum was happy to bring the baby to his office and raise it there. On reflection, we concluded that the kitten, who was too young to walk, must have been carried to the ledge by its own mother and deliberately dropped. Maybe she didn’t have enough milk, or maybe she didn’t like the smell of this one. Who knows? Only one thing is for sure: nature is awful!

Location of Gülhane Park on our Map

We dedicated a whole blog to the Cats In Istanbul

Cat Blog
This ratty-looking tomcat was also paying careful attention to the mewling kitten
Istanbul Cat Blog
The kitten clinging to the ledge
Kittens In Istanbul
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Non-Kitten Related Pics of Gülhane Park
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Parks In Istanbul
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May 26, 2013 at 6:51 am Comments (4)

Southwest of the Hippodrome

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The winding streets and cobblestone alleys immediately southwest of the Hippodrome have a radically different atmosphere from the rest of tourist-oriented Sultanahmet. Sloping down swiftly to the Sea of Marmara, this little subsection of the city has a couple beautiful mosques, as well as a pleasing working-class vibe.

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Just a few hundred meters from the chaotic crowds at the Blue Mosque, we found the quiet Sokollu Mehmet Paşa Camii. Yet another creation of the Ottoman master architect Mimar Sinan, this lovely mosque was built in 1571 for the Grand Vizier of Suleyman the Magnificent. We were frustrated to find the doors locked, but a student in the attached Koran School suggested we just wait until prayer time.

We relaxed at a nearby rooftop cafe until the call to prayer was issued from the mosque’s solitary minaret. Then, hoping that a solemn demeanor would help us blend in, we filed into the Mehmet Paşa along with the worshipers. This was the first Muslim ceremony I’d witnessed, and I found it quite moving. While we silently observed from the rear of the mosque, an Imam led the prayers. In unison, the men would bow, kneel or join in the chanting. [More Pics of the Sokullu Mehmet Paşa | Location]

Right down the street is the Küçük Ayasofya Camii, or the Small Hagia Sofia, so named because of an architectural and chromatic resemblance to Istanbul’s most famous mosque. It was originally built in 527 as a Byzantine church and, from the exterior, looks its age. So the magnificence of the recently-restored interior comes as a surprise. It’s not as colorful as other mosques, but has a wonderful two-story colonnade, and visitors are allowed to explore the upper floors. [More Pics of the Küçük Ayasofya Camii | Location]

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The Greek writing betrays the Küçük Ayasofya’s original use as a Byzantine Church

After finishing up in the Little Hagia Sofia, we poked around the neighborhood. For being so close to Istanbul’s most popular sights, there were few tourists underway on these narrow, uneven streets. Instead, we saw Turks going on about their daily lives — visiting the market, repairing rotted old buildings, and sitting on tiny stools on the sidewalk, drinking tea. [More Pics from the Neighborhood]

To get home, we walked along the Sea of Marmara until reaching the Galata Bridge. This was a longer trek than we had anticipated, but an entertaining one. Views of Asian Istanbul accompanied us the whole way, along with stray cats, fishermen grilling their day’s catch on the wave breakers, and tankers sounding their horns on their way into the Bosphorus. [More Pics from our Walk along the Sea]

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More Pictures from the Neighborhood
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More Pictures from the Sokullu Mehmet Paşa
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More Pictures from the Kuçuk Ayasofya
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More Pictures from our Walk along the Sea
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March 27, 2013 at 9:27 am Comments (2)
The Cats of Istanbul It was a common sight in Istanbul. You'd be standing in front of some amazing building like the Hagia Sophia or the Galata Tower, and all the tourists would be completely ignoring it. Their cameras were trained on something cuter than some ancient old structure: a playful pack of mewling kittens.
For 91 Days