Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia may have been the most magnificent orthodox basilica in the Byzantine Empire, crowned with a stunning dome centuries before they were used in the western Catholic church, and subsequently one of the most important mosques in the Ottoman Empire, but in recent years felines have stolen some of the limelight. Gli, a long-time resident cat who became a social media sensation after she was petted by President Erdogan and President Obama, passed away in 2020. Now, local newspapers are reporting that her successor, an Angora cat named Kiliç, went missing this past week. Meanwhile, I just spotted a mysterious feline interloper (pictured above) spying on the tourists. Could this be a turf war?
Whatever misfortunes may have befallen the mosque’s feline residents, theirs was a privilege that would never be afforded to dogs. Cats are considered ritually clean animals in Islam and there are various accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s fondness for cats, neither of which is the case with dogs. Cats are ubiquitous in Istanbul, with strays estimated at numbering anything between 100,000 and one million, and throughout the city you can see them being fed and cared for by local communities whereas dogs tend to fend for themselves. As such, I found it quite appropriate that this dog was howling outside the front of the Hagia Sophia (see photo above), perhaps jealous of the comforts afforded to a succession of cats in the most magnificent home imaginable.