Istanbul is home to several architectural wonders but it's the feline population that catches the eye
WITH ITS iconic Bosphorus Bridge connecting Asia with Europe and the Islamic call to prayer ringing out from its thousands of mosques, Istanbul feels like a city that’s found a perfect harmony. Perhaps this cosmic balance is why cats of all shapes and sizes are drawn to its streets and are happily fed and watered by its residents.
Unlike the skinny stray dogs on the streets of Bangkok, cats or kedisi as they are known locally, are friendly and enjoy posing for photos. Wander anywhere around this beautiful Turkish city and feline residents will never be out of sight. In fact, the town wouldn’t be the same without its kitties, a fact that was confirmed in the charming 2016 documentary “Kedi” that made the point “Without the cat, Istanbul would lose a part of its soul”.
The cat is welcomed everywhere in Istanbul including Topkapi Palace.
The cats are not adopted formally but are nonetheless pets of a kind. Look at the sides of high-rise office buildings or in front of the houses in the residential areas and you’ll spot many small containers full of food. These loving animals soften the hearts and bring smiles to the faces of every passer by. Most of them will stop and let you pat them. They will look at you in the eyes, curl up their tails and rub against your legs as they hint they would like some food.
It is also common to see cats lounging in the sunlight, grooming themselves, scampering into shops, playing in the garden, and strolling in the museum as if they are watchers protecting the ancient treasures. It is not unusual to see cats jumping up into the laps of restaurant patrons in the city’s teahouses. Every movement of the furry felines catches the eye.
“In Turkey we love cats because they make our lives more lively,” explains Ozlem Batal, owner of Turkey Travel Group, For example, when you go out in the morning to walk or to jog, or go to work, there is no one else around but the cat and it starts to walk with you. So we feel very comfortable. In my residential area, there are about five resident cats that come out to greet me and I feel like they are welcoming me home even though I don’t keep them in the house. They expect some food and just a little bit of love. It’s very natural, and most of Istanbul’s felines are not afraid of humans. Why should they be? Everyone loves them. Cats have become an inseparable part of neighbourhood life in this city,” she smiles.
Breakfast at Crowne Plaza Istanbul Florya
“They are clever, and never go hungry. On cold winter nights they are also on street, it is their lifestyle. The lucky ones might stay in the little feline houses that some cat-loving Istanbulites get for them.”
There are no official records as to the number of cats that reside on Istanbul’s streets. Stray cats and dogs are protected by law and certainly have the right to live in the neighbourhood.
“There are always some pet haters who will kick them but if anyone sees that they can call the police. They can’t be harmed,” Batal continues.
The Turkish Angora is the world’s most unique breed, boasting a long, elegant and white silky coat and a sinuous body. The eyes can be different colours, with many having one blue eye and the other amber or green. Ears are pointed, large, and wide-set. The plumed tail is carried upright. The feline is considered one of the ancient, natural breeds of cats and is believed to have originated in central Turkey in the Ankara region.
Unlike dogs, which are regarded as dirty in the Islamic faith, cats are considered ritually clean animals. In the Hadith, there are numerous examples of the Prophet’s fondness for cats. Cats were considered guardians in other respects too for the Islamic world.
But, of course, there is plenty to see in Istanbul in addition to the cats.
The marvellous architecture of Hagia Sophia
Topkapi Palace, part of the great Ottoman Empire, which was built in the fourteenth century, is today one of the most popular sites to visit. Opened to the public as a museum in 1924, it has many sections, as each sultan added a different section or hall to the palace, depending on his taste or on the needs of the time. It is a veritable maze of buildings centred on a series of beautiful courtyards protected by different gates. Its architecture is predominantly Middle Eastern in character.
There are exhibition halls for different chambers, collections of arms and armour and a majestic Imperial Council Hall. A visit to the palace kitchens is a must as here the cooks would prepare food for the 10,000 people living in the palace. Other spaces house collections of plates, bowls, medicine methods, perfumes and candles.
And then there are the cats.
Photography is not permitted in some of the exhibition halls including the Treasury, the area housing the Sultans’ costumes, and the Holly Relics. But again thanks to the friendly felines and their penchant for guarding ancient treasures, the official allowed us to take picture of the cats.
The Grand Bazaar is also a popular spot with the cats, who seem to particularly love the carpet shops,
nestling in the warm rugs for a nap.
The oldest and most beautiful tower in Istanbul, Galata Tower, offers a 360-degree view of the religious city. Standing 66.90 meters above the ground and 140 metres when measured from sea level, it boasts a restaurant on top serving delicious Turkish delight.
But the most popular travel destinations in Istanbul are the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, both of which are undergoing restoration. Visitors are still allowed to enter some parts of the buildings to truly appreciate the miraculous architecture.
>> The writer wishes to thank Turkish Airlines for sponsoring the trip.
IF YOU GO
>> Turkish Airlines offers direct flights from Bangkok to Istanbul. For travel to other parts of Europe, Middle East or Africa, the airline has introduced a special “Stopover” campaign under which passengers spending more than 20 hours in transit are provided with complimentary accommodation. Economy class passengers receive one night free in a four-star hotel while business class travellers get two nights in a five-star hotel.
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