This is a nice little snippet of Turkish history that goes all the way back to the Ottoman Empire and concerns the cats of Constantinople (now Istanbul).
The comments on PoC by The Turkish Angora Association have given me the impression that the Turkish people genuinely like their community cats, which, by the way, are the genuine Turkish Angoras.
From what I have read in the Adventures of Baron Wenceslas Wratislaw: What he saw in Constantinople, in his captivity, committed to writing 1599 (“the book”), the liking of cats by Turkish people goes back a very long time. The book is a translation that was first published in 1777.
However, there appears to be a certain amount of superstition behind the generosity of the Turkish people towards their cats. In fact, is it all about superstition? Superstition is really what was behind the Ancient Egyptian worship of the cat God Bastet and the sacrifices of cats and kittens. I think the common belief that Ancient Egyptians loved cats is a bit of a myth.
Here is a quote from the book:
In Constantinople there are also large gardens, surrounded with walls, on which cats usually jump and as semble, waiting at certain hours for people to come and give them alms. For it is customary among the Turks to boil and bake paunches, lights, livers, and pieces of meat, and carry them in wooden buckets up and down the city, crying out, “Kedy et, kedy et!” i.e. ” Cat’s meat! ”
A kitchen-boy also carries on his shoulders a number of spits, upon which are baked pieces of meat, liver, and spleen, and cries in the streets, ” Tiupek et, tiupek et!” i e. ” Dog’s meat !” till they ring again. Behind him run three-score dogs or more, looking to him to be served.
The Turks buy this food, distribute it to the dogs, and throw it to the cats upon the wall ; for these superstitious and barbarous people imagine that they obtain especial favour in the eyes of God by giving alms even to irrational cattle, cats, dogs, fish, birds, and other live creatures; and, therefore, they consider it a great sin to kill and destroy captured birds, and prefer to ransom them with money, and release them into their previous state of freedom, that they may fly away.
They also throw bread to fishes in the water for them to live upon. They have a custom of distributing bread, meat, and other victuals to cats and dogs, of which a very large number are found daily in the streets, at certain places, and definite times ; and it is an undoubted truth that on the walls of these gardens the cats breakfast in good time in the morning, and assemble for the second time at the hour of the evening meal, in large bodies out of the whole city, and stand on the look out ; for we went purposely to these walls, listened to their caterwauling, and, with great laughter, watched how they ran out of the houses and assembled.
So, too, we several times saw Turkish matrons and old women buying pieces of meat on the spit from the kitchen-boys, or from the public kitchens, which are not far from this place, and handing them on a long stick or wand to the cats as they sit on the walls, muttering meanwhile a kind of Turkish prayers.
There we have it: Turkish “matrons” (older women?) praying while they fed the community cats of Constantinople in 1599. This was a time when it is likely that there were no domestic, stray, community or feral cats in the whole of North America! Perhaps there were some domestic cats in America at that time but not many. Yet the city of Constantinople was teeming with them.
Turkey is at the centre of the cat world. A grave in Cyprus off the coast of Turkey is evidence of the oldest known domestic cat. One of the first mutual acts of wild cat domestication.
The Turkish Angora is an ancient and very important cat in the cat world. I wonder if the association of the domestic cat with superstition in Turkey during the 16th century originated in Egypt.
It is interesting that 16th and 17th century Europe was an era of witch trials. Many people were accused on being witches and if they kept a cat the cat was implicated as the devil. More superstition, but in Europe it was a destructive and negative version during which cats were brutally killed, while in Turkey the cats benefited with breakfast and dinner.
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