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.

The cats of Istanbul

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.

This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. Chic Soufflé

    Well, I don’t think they’re THAT cute… I’m kidding!!! They’re freaking adorable!! :)) Awesome pictures, as always. Cats were definitely a perk in our visit to Istanbul.

  2. And it is a testimony to how well-treated cats are by locals in Istanbul that stray cats generally showed no fear or distrust of you whatsoever. It’s as if they knew that people are their friends.

  3. Julie

    Great photos. The last time i was in istanbul there was a cat in the Hagis Sofia sitting by one of the big urns calmly allowing itself to be caressed by the tourists . i like many others,took multiple photos  of him. A young America woman commented that she had seen him earlier scratching his claws on the heavy oak doors of the entrance hall. 

  4. Over the River

    These are wonderful. My wife’s family is Turkish and I love cats. Perfect. Here is my recently passed cat Sparky:

  5. Maite Miguel

    They’re all absolutely gorgeous! It’s great to have so many cats around to control the rat/mouse population. Besides, cats are awesome….I wish we had a place like that here in The States 🙂 

  6. Osman

    Stray know their limits, they do not jump onto your table while eating, or enter your house, keep the ancient dense city mice free, they are not afraid of people and let you caress most of the time, they behave like they know everybody, people treat them with respect and they get respect in return. Stray cats of Istanbul are not pets, but citizens.

  7. B

    I completely understand this obsession.  Istanbul has now topped my to-visit list.

  8. hilary sable

    just to say how wonderful your photos are… what a shame you didn’t find us on your visit.. we are a street animal rescue group and we see the other side of the enormous number of street cats here.. the sick, the blind, the injured, the homeless kittens living under cars.. we care for these animals, get them well, home them, even fly them to new families in other countriesplease join our group ….you never know how you may be able to help!

  9. Nads

    I have a cat phobia so hate cats, but I visited Istanbul and am going again this year. This is for all people who have allergies or phobias don’t worry, generally cats are not in the mosques or museums and I managed 6 days in Istanbul without coming into contact physically with a cat, they stayed away. The only problem is eating in outdoor cafes, street cats do come and beg for food, jump on tables and people, which means if you want to eat outdoors and have a cat phobia, make sure you pick a rooftop terrace or even restaurants enclosed with views. Animals are not clean, and I often wonder about people letting cats crawl all over them, what about the remains from their toilet which is on their fur now rubbing on your hands and clothes and then you eat?? Yuck. But if you like cats well then that’s your thing. I keep a glass of water on me while eating in case a cat does come close I just throw it at them, but honestly this didn’t happen in all my six days and Istanbul is a magnificent beautiful city so please do visit even if you have a cat phobia. And the posher bits on Istiklal and Levant don’t really have this problem at all.

    1. betty

      thank you. i have a cat phobia and i was wondering about it

  10. kiki

    MERCI à Juergen et Mike de nous faire partager cette merveilleuse expérience ! Déjà cette démarche de “lent” voyage autour du monde est vraiment très sympathique, mais cette vision d’Istanbul par le biais de ses chats visiblement heureux d’y vivre leurs vies, est vraiment émouvante et de mon point de vue, bien plus humaine qu’on pourrait le croire !:D

  11. Delia

    too true..have so many photos of kitties when last in Istanbul.content happy little it and the people that keep an eye on them x

  12. SmokeHillFarm

    While tourist see the cute cats hanging around the exotic sites, they don’t see the many others suffering and dying, since cats usually go off by themselves when they start feeling bad — much like they “hide” when getting ready to deliver kittens.None of these cats ever see a veterinarian, and diseases such as toxoplasmosis, feline leukemia and other horrible examples are endemic to the population of Turkish cats (they are in every city, like Izmir & Ankara, too).  I lived in Izmir for several years, and the number of cats found dead that need to be disposed of every day is simply staggering, according to the local police I spoke to.   The problem is so huge that there is absolutely no short-term solution — it could be fixed, but it would take generations, and lots of money the cities simply don’t have, so it won’t change.  Also, the people of Turkey do not consider this a real problem, just the usually “insallah” response — “If Allah wills it ….”The Turks should be trapping cats and spay/neutering them to at least slow down the birth rate and leave a cat population that will be much healthier and happier.  It will also reduce the reservoir of disease that can be passed to people, especially the Turkish children. Thus far their spay/neuter programs are too small to have any real effect.The saddest part is how dogs are treated in Turkey, and most Muslim countries.  They are considered “unclean” and are far more likely to be poisoned or shot than helped.

  13. Thank you for sharing about cats of Istanbul! It’s great to see that you have a good heart for cats 🙂 Like others said, there is another side of cats in Turkey as well. Many cats are abandoned and need care. I know a lady who saves cats in Turkey. People like her and rescue groups need support. If you plan visiting Turkey and you love cats, google for cat rescuers and rescue groups, see how you could help. Thank you for respect and love for cats. xox

  14. Karen

    After seeing cat after cat in so many places all around Istanbul, we mentioned to our guide that we were thinking of making a book called “The Cats of Istanbul.” Imagine our surprise to hear there already WAS one! This is delightful – thanks for sharing!!

  15. maram

    how old is this cat ! it look so cute and old 🙂

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