Why Does Istanbul Have So Many Cats?

Istanbul is one of the most famous cities in the world. Thanks to its rich history, breathtaking architecture and delicious food, Istanbul captures the imagination of visitors from all over the world.

istanbul building

However, Istanbul is not only home to breathtaking attractions and tasty food; it is also home to the largest concentration of stray cats you may see in any city.

The actual number of cats in Istanbul is very hard to estimate, as no one can really count them.

In 2020, The New York Times estimated that were over 200,000 cats roaming free the streets of this megacity of 15 million people.

istanbul cats

Those who have lived there for a while think the actual number of cats in Istanbul is more likely to be over a million.

For a city of over 15 million people, it’s quite a lot but what is more surprising is the level of care and attention these cats receive not only from Istanbul citizens, but also from tourists from all parts of the world.

Thanks to its huge cat population, Istanbul is often referred to as ”Catstanbul.”


How Cats Came To Istanbul?

cat on boat

It is believed that the first cats arrived in Istanbul on trading ships from Egypt during the Ottoman Empire. Sailors kept the cats on their ships in order to kill rats during their merchant trips.

As a port city, Istanbul was especially benefited by the arrival of the cats. The cats helped kill rats, mice, and other rodents that spread infection and diseases.

cat vs mouse

The cats became valued for their ability to hunt rodents and became a symbol of cleanliness in Istanbul. Over the years, people started respecting them for their assistance in keeping the city clean and came to see them as an integral part of the city.

Nowadays, cats are the most beloved animal in Istanbul and are often seen as the living attraction of this magnificent city.


Why Is Istanbul A Feline Paradise?

istanbul-cats

Thousands of cats wander the streets of Istanbul and have been doing it for centuries. Tourists are often surprised when they see cats occupying the best spots in restaurants and cafes without anyone even bothering moving them.

The tourists also get surprised at the state of the stray cats and the amount of care and attention they receive from the locals.

Unlike stray cats in the West, Istanbul’s stray cats are well-cared for. These cats aren’t seen as unwanted pets as many stray cats are viewed in the West.

There is a unique friendship between cats and people in Istanbul. People provide cats with food, water, and shelter whenever they can.

istanbul cat

As a result of this friendship, the cats in Istanbul are very friendly and calm. They are approaching strangers to play with or to ask for some food.

Some districts in Istanbul have created cat houses in parks, while some individuals spend their own money and time to build beautiful cat houses around their neighborhoods.


Why People in Istanbul Love Cats?

cat in mosque

Although citizens of Istanbul have always loved their cats, the reason for their love for cats is deeply rooted in their culture and religion.

Cats are often seen as sacred animals in Istanbul whose citizens are mostly Muslims. Muslims believe cats are sacred because of numerous stories of the Prophet Muhammad interacting with cats.

One of the stories says that the Prophet Muhammad was almost killed by a serpent when a cat saved his life by killing the serpent. To show his appreciation for the cat, Muhammad blessed it, giving all the cats the ability to always land on their feet when they fall.

cat in islam

In Islam, cats are also a preferred species for domestication. They are considered to be very clean animals and are allowed to enter houses and mosques.

It is not uncommon to see cats wandering the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Mosque, or Grand Bazar.

grand bazaar

Other Muslim cities, like Mecca, Cairo, and Medina are also well known for their cat populations.


Istanbul Cats Documentary

kedi

In 2016, an amazing documentary about the stray cats in Istanbul called “Kedi”, which translates to “Cat” in Turkish, was released in Turkey. “Kedi” captures the beauty of Istanbul from a cat’s eye perspective.

The documentary was directed by Ceyda Torun. It made over $4 million at the box office and has become one of the most beloved animal films in Turkey.

If you are interested in learning more about Istanbul’s stray cats, we highly recommend you to watch this amazing documentary.

Here is the trailer:

The full documentary is available on YouTube.

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