The world famous Persian cat, which is said to be the world’s most popular purebred, pedigree cat, has no connection with the original Persian cat. The connection has long since disappeared into the machinations of the cat fancy. Everything about the cat fancy’s version of the Persian is different to the original. Genetically it is different. The purebred Persian is more connected to Western cats. It is more connected to American purebred cats.
The appearance is startlingly different. It is bound to be because the modern purebred, pedigree Persian looks different to all freeborn cats and all other cats because of its unnaturally flat-face and overly cobby body combined with its extraordinarily long fur.
If we are to believe what we read all over the internet and in expert’s books, the character or personality is different too. The modern Persian is described as laid back and placid; a piece of cat furniture. The original is, was and always will be a long haired random bred cat (freeborn cat) that happens to live in Iran. Such a cat has the normal temperament of a normal cat, neither overtly placid nor overly active. Just a cat.
I have referred to the original Persian cat as living in Iran. That should be where the real Persian cat lived and still lives. However, we don’t know for sure if Iran is the country from where the original Persians were imported into the West.
An immediate difficulty with the Persian is that the cat has long fur. The original domestic cats didn’t. They had fur of the same length as the Near Eastern Wildcat.
So, over the time of evolution of the domestic cat and before the first Persian cat was imported to the West, (s)he developed longer fur. It must have been a cold climate that demanded that change.
Eastern Turkey and Western Iran have very cold winters (-11 to -15 °C in winter)1. This may be where the Persian comes from.
It is probably more accurate to say that the original Persian cats were, and still are, located in the Middle East. The Middle East includes Turkey and Syria, for example. Thousands of years ago the Turkish Angora would have looked like the original Persian cats (in Iran) and the long haired cats of eastern Turkey would have certainly been the same cats as those in western Iran.
In the late 1800s in England the Persian and Angora were similar cats although described as slightly different. They were possible the same cat, in actual fact. The differences would have been either created through breeding or incidental. Is the Persian a modified version of the Turkish Angora? We won’t know but it is probably more sensible to not quibble over that and simply say that we are referring to long haired cats in the Middle East or a part of the Middle East which transcends country boundaries.
The first documented ancestors of the Persian were imported from Persia to Italy in 1620 and from Turkey into France by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc at a similar time. That is what you will read over and over again in books2 and on the internet. I have two observations (a) it is quite likely that there were many undocumented importations of long haired cats to what we now call Europe, well before 1620 and (b) it supports the idea that the Persian is a modified Turkish Angora or, to be more accurate, a long haired cat from Eastern Turkey or Western Iran as mentioned. The original Turkish Angora is very similar in appearance to the traditional Persian.
In the late 1800s the Persian was “developed” per Harrison Weir’s first breed standard. The standard evolved, just as the cat had over centuries, until the standard hit the buffers at the extreme end of cat breeding, leaving the Persian cat that is so popular, so different from its natural ancestors.
- Dr Fogle in The Encyclopedia of the Cat