The Extraordinary Lives of Istanbul’s Street Cats

You’ll find them greeting foreign dignitaries at one of the city’s most famous sights, lounging on café chairs and shop displays, and lapping up attention wherever they go. They have their own Instagram account, and custom-built shelters and feeding stations on the city’s streets. Forget the Byzantines and the Ottomans: The real conquerors of Istanbul are its street cats.

“There’s a mystery, an unpredictability about both cats and Istanbul,” says Ceyda Torun, the Istanbul-born director of a 2016 documentary film “Kedi,” which tells the stories of seven of the city’s many street cats and the people who love them. Named after the Turkish word for “cat,” the movie shows how deeply intertwined Istanbul’s felines are with the lives of the city’s residents — a relationship Torun says her research indicates goes back thousands of years.

A zoologist at Istanbul University showed Torun a 3,500-year-old cat skeleton uncovered during construction of the Marmaray underwater rail system. “It was dug up right on the coast of the Bosphorus Strait and has a healed bone on its leg,” Torun says. “The zoologist’s professional opinion was that the bone could only have healed in the way that it did if it was wrapped up by a human.”

People in Istanbul have long cared for the city’s non-human residents: In the Ottoman era, many houses were constructed with cat doors, and many mosques with built-in birdhouses, says Torun. “The more every bit of green space and soil in the city is flattened and paved over, the more inhospitable it becomes to cats, and you’ve really started seeing a lot more people putting out food and water for street animals over the last five to ten years as summers have become hotter. There’s a bigger push to see that they’re OK.”

“We’re more worried about what will happen to the cats than to us,” one man living in an area scheduled for redevelopment tells Torun in the film. “If this neighborhood gets torn down, they won’t have anyone.” “Cats can get into so many places that we can’t; a cat we were following while filming would go into a hole and I would poke the camera through and see that inside was a beautiful abandoned building,” Torun says. “The cats exist almost on a different plane than we do in the city, and you kind of envy them for it in the end.”

Source: The Citylab

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