Catster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Why Are There So Many Cats In Istanbul? The Wonderful Relationship Between The City & Its Cats

Written by: Lorre Luther

Last Updated on March 13, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Why Are There So Many Cats In Istanbul? The Wonderful Relationship Between The City & Its Cats

Istanbul’s cats are famous the world over. They welcome people in tea houses and restaurants, ride ferries, and buses, and generally enjoy hanging out and relaxing anywhere they can find a comfortable spot in a warm ray of sun.

Istanbul’s cats don’t have owners, but the people who live in the city make sure the kitties in their midst have places to sleep, eat, and drink. Cats have long been special to the people of Istanbul, and it shows in the love and attention they receive.

3 cat face divider

Where Is Istanbul?

Istanbul is located in northwestern Turkey. It’s situated on the Bosphorus Peninsula between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and straddles Europe and Asia.

Istanbul has a long and storied history. The Byzantine and Ottoman Empires were both centered in the city, which was long called Constantinople. Ankara became the nation’s capital in the 1920s when the Republic of Turkey was established.

Image Credit: IgorZh, Shutterstock

Where Do Istanbul’s Cats Come From?

Research suggests domestic cats in Istanbul likely originated in the Middle East, specifically the Fertile Crescent. Recent DNA studies have narrowed it down a bit more and suggest that the first cats to be domesticated may have come from Anatolia.

The domestication process may have begun around 10,000 years ago when humans began living in settlements in the Fertile Crescent. Some suggest that cats made the first move in the domestication game and decided to hang out close to humans to avail themselves of the plentiful rodents attracted to homes.

Cats probably spread from the Fertile Crescent along with agriculture. Evidence from Cyprus suggests that humans may have been keeping cats as pets in some capacity by around 9,500 years ago. Paintings from the Egyptian New Kingdom Period show cats wearing collars and dining from bowls, so kitties were probably domesticated by then.

Image Credit: Murat An, Shutterstock

How Does Istanbul Care for Her Cats?

Istanbul’s residents carry food to dole out when they come across hungry kitties. Shelters  (kept clean and safe by volunteers) are located throughout the city, where cats can find protection from the elements.

Volunteers work together to ensure neighborhood cats are fed and healthy. They also make sure the cats they care for are spayed and neutered. The city of Istanbul employs veterinarians and funds several veterinary clinics.

It pays for stray cats to be spayed and neutered and to receive emergency care. There’s even a mobile Vetbus that provides medical services in locations throughout the city. Community members regularly contribute money to ensure local cats receive medical care not provided by the municipality.

stray cats in the streets
Image Credit: Lea Rae, Shutterstock

How Are Feral Cats in Other Cities Cared For?

It depends. New York City has a large feral cat population, which is largely cared for by volunteers working with nonprofit organizations. The city doesn’t have an official stance on trap-neuter-release programs.

Trap-neuter-release programs are legal in Chicago, and there’s even a way for caretakers to be officially recognized. Caretakers provide cat colonies with water and food and take care of shelter maintenance. Volunteers are required to work with nonprofit organizations that sponsor them (and provide the resources needed to care for the cats).

Los Angeles has a Citywide Cat program that pays for 20,000 feral cats to be neutered or spayed, vaccinated, and released every year.

Image Credit: Vladimir Konstantinov, Shutterstock

Are Any of Istanbul’s Cats Particularly Well Known?

Two of the city’s feline residents are particularly famous. Tombili, who used to live in the Kadiköyy district, hit the big time thanks to a picture that was taken of the chubby cat relaxing and enjoying life.

After Tombili died, a statue was commissioned to honor the cat’s life. Gil was a cat with gorgeous green eyes who called the Hagia Sophia home. She became famous after Barack Obama stopped to pet her during a visit.

cat paw divider


Istanbul has a special relationship with the cats who call it home. Its residents provide food, water, shelter, and love to support the cats with whom they share their streets and parks. The city pays for the feral cats who live there to be spayed and neutered and provides emergency veterinary services to keep them healthy. Cats are welcome everywhere in the historic city, including on trams and buses, which they sometimes ride on their own.

Featured Image Credit: tom-prejeant, Unsplash

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Catster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.