peering through the gate of Hagia Sophia

peering through the gate of Hagia Sophia

Being a cat in Istanbul is like being a cow in India.

Sip your margarita while seeing more than 50,000 kitty photos via Instagram , #catsofistanbul . Or watch the feature film by local filmakers, “Nine Lives”, on Vimeo.  Or learn something along with Istanbul residents via YouTube tutorials, like building shelters and feeding stations. There’s also a Facebook page, The Cats Of Instanbul.

Cats have always been famous in Istanbul but now they’re famous the world over, thanks to social media. And that’s what brings together the cat junkies, local architects for designing and repairing dilapidated cat shelters, veterinarians, and local restaurants and butchers that ensure leftover scraps are taken to the strays.

This cat craze stems from a combination of religion, tradition and practicality. 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. In the 19th century, cats were bred in large numbers for pest control to kill a thriving rat population.

Ground zero for the cats is the district of Cihangir, a liberal neighborhood where gangs of multicolored cats can be seen roaming at intersections, lounging in cafes or sunning on the hoods of cars. Some of the local businesses say they feel a responsibility to help preserve the city’s feline affinity. Pizza Factory, a new food place, proclaims an open door policy for street animals and even sifts through leftovers to pick out waste that could upset a cat’s stomach.