I’ve just returned from two weeks in Turkey, most of which I spent in Istanbul.

The main reason I went to Istanbul was to attend a travel conference called the World Tourism Forum, where I listened to speeches and panels with leading tourism professionals and met other travel bloggers from around the world. I also wanted to explore Istanbul (I’d been once before, but only for eight hours) and check out at least one other destination in Turkey.

And there is one other big reason why I went to Istanbul: the cats.

Istanbul cats-2This might be the cutest cat in Istanbul. Or it might not be. There are thousands of cats competing for that honor.

Everyone knows I love cats. I photograph them everywhere I go, and my own cat writes frequently on this blog. But my love of cats can’t compare to the cat-love that encompasses the city of Istanbul, and in fact all of Turkey.

Istanbul cats-2-4Cat on a wall in Cihangir, Istanbul.

Istanbul’s Multitude of Cats

There are hundreds of thousands of cats in Istanbul, most of which are strays. By “stray” I mean that the cats live mainly outside and aren’t “owned” by any one person. But the stray cats of Istanbul, as a whole, are exceptionally well cared-for. Most of them look healthy and well fed (bowls of cat food appear everywhere on Istanbul’s streets), and unlike feral cats in other places these cats are usually keen to socialize with humans.

There are various theories and explanations for why cats are so ubiquitous in Turkey, most of which center around the fact that cats hold a special place in Islam. As the popular Muslim saying goes, “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.” However, Turkey’s passion for cats seems to go beyond religion. To me it just seems like Turkish people, as a whole, really love cats. And I don’t blame them.

Although I did make time for other activities, I could have spent my entire stay in Istanbul following, petting, and taking photos of cats. I’ve compiled my favorite cat pics for this post.

Istanbul cats-2-3On our first free afternoon in Istanbul, Meruschka and I visited a neighborhood called Cihangir that is home to a charming family of cats. (The cats of Cihangir even have a dedicated Facebook group.) We met the cats on a beautiful rainbow-painted staircase, where we spent at least 45 minutes taking photos.

Istanbul cats-8420Kitten of Cihangir.

Istanbul cats-2-5Mama cat of Cihangir.

Istanbul cats-8468
Feeding time on the Cihangir steps.

Istanbul cats-8500I went a little cat-crazy in Cihangir.
 Istanbul cats-8571Cat on a cobbled street, Galata.

Istanbul cats-9817Golden cat, Galata.

Istanbul cats-8846Cats on a chilly day, Fener.

Istanbul cats-9963Cat in front of a trendy coffee shop, Balat.

Istanbul cats-9491This cat, shown with my Turkish blogging colleague Murat, crashed our Travel Massive networking event at Hush Hostel in Kadıköy. He was the sweetest most affectionate cat ever, until a pizza appeared on the table. Then he became an aggressive, ravenous, lunatic cat who is clearly used to having his way with human food.

Istanbul cats-0271Pretty cat by a pretty door, Eminönü. People leave out boxes and pieces of cardboard for the cats to sit on, since Istanbul’s streets and stone floors are cold in winter.

Istanbul cats-9661Cat and graffiti, Beyoğlu.

Istanbul cats-9624I think this is my favorite picture that I took in Istanbul, shot on İstiklal Street during a walking tour with Context Travel. You can’t tell in this photo, but the regal cat in the man’s lap only has one eye. I wish I could have gotten their story, but he didn’t speak English and I didn’t want to hold up my tour group. I could tell he was a lovely man though, with lovely cats.

I should mention that there are also lots of stray dogs in Istanbul, although not as many as there are stray cats. The dogs also look relatively healthy but not as well cared-for as the cats. I noticed that lots of the dogs, especially in central tourist areas, have tags in their ears, which I assume means they have been spayed/neutered.

Istanbul dog-0098An Istanbul dog in Sultanahmet.

I’ll probably have more to say about Turkey’s cats and dogs in future posts.

Read more about the cats of Istanbul here, here, here, and here.

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