Like Albert Schweitzer said: “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: Music and cats!” It’s a privilege to live with cats. Because, with their lovely looks and quirky attitudes, cats are great friends who keep humans good company. They play hard to get so that we don’t get spoiled while demonstrating our love. On the contrary, we become their center of attention if we look uninterested. :) This strong bond with cats is as old as the human history. Our animal friends have been all around Istanbul for many years. Because cats are right in the heart of life in this city. We run across them on streets, on rooftops, at homes and at parks, in short, everywhere. Love of cats in Istanbul dates back to the Ottoman and even to the Byzantine time.
Animals had great importance in the Ottoman Empire
History books tell us that there was a high population of animals like cats and dogs in the Byzantine Empire. On the other hand, animals had a very special and important place also for the Ottomans, the owners of these lands which were used to be ruled by the Byzantium. Let’s have a look at Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq’s travel book to get an idea on the significance of stray animals:
“...A Venetian jeweler enjoyed hunting birds. He hung one of the birds he hunted on the door by stretching its wings. And he stretched its mouth with a straw. Turks passing by stopped and looked at the bird. They took pity on the bird when they saw it was still alive, wiggling. They said it was horrendous to torture a poor bird like this. They summoned the jeweler out of his home. They seized him by the neck and made him appear before the judge (Kadi). Just when the judge was about to impose a severe punishment on the Venetian jeweler, the Balio of Venice, who was an officer commissioned for the judicial affairs of the Venetian minority, came and asked the criminal to be handed over to him. This way, the jeweler was freed on the elevent hour.”
Foundations were set up for animals; cats and dogs were fed in soup kitchens
The Ottomans protected stray animals by sticking to the principles of a high moral attitude, showing them mercy. They were kind to animals and encouraged people to protect animal rights. Accordingly, cats and dogs were fed along with poor people in soup kitchens. Butlers were hired for animal care, agreements were made with butchers and salaries were paid to feed them. Additionally, foundations were established to meet treatment, water and food needs of animals. One of them was the cat hospital in Uskudar. In addition to all these, even kebab days were organized for animals.
Cats as inheritors
The Ottomans had a strong liking for stray animals. So much so that many people used to leave money for their pets in their testaments so that they could still be fed. Tradespeople like bakers or butchers were usually chosen as executors of their will. During his visit to Istanbul in 1656, Thévenot summarized the situation with the following words:
“Some of the Turks bequeath a certain portion of their material assets (inheritance, alimony) to feed a certain number of dogs and cats for a certain period of time, or they give money to bakers or butchers to feed their pets after their death and these tradespeople execute their will to the letter with a sense of fulfilling a religious duty. Thus, based on the hand outs given by the foundations, it is commonplace to see people who carry meat to feed cats and dogs around them every day. This might seem ridiculous to use, but not to them.”
There were feeders for cats and dogs
Another indication of compassion shown for cats and dogs was cat and dog feeders called mancacı. If someone wanted to feed cats and dogs, they used to give money to these feeders. And feeders used to feed cats and dogs on their behalf.
A child in every house, then and now!
Every house had a cat in the Ottoman times. They were considered a family member. So much so that if a cat showed more interest in a guest, the host became jealous just like today :) And this has not changed over the years. Nowadays, almost every individual in Istanbul has a child.at home Even when they might have a home to live, they wait to be fed on their usual spot on the street. Because they own this world as much as we do. They start with us. So, we will finish this article with the words of Ceyda Torun who said, “In Istanbul, cat means more than just an animal. Cat is associated with the indescribable chaos, culture, uniqueness and nature of Istanbul...” Remember to put cups in front of your door, one for food and one for water, for the secret owners of Istanbul!
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